What I Learned from AACR Annual Meeting 2022 (Part 1)

I attended AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Annual Meeting 2022 from April 9-13 for the first time. The meeting was a hybrid with the in-person one in New Orleans, but I attended on the virtual platform. This year marks the 115th year of AACR’s leadership in lifesaving cancer science. The meeting program covers the latest discoveries across the spectrum of cancer research - from population science and prevention; to cancer biology, translational and clinical studies, to survivorship and advocacy.1 In addition, all scientific programs were live-streamed to the virtual platform.

I initially questioned what the Patient Research Advocates (PRAs) would do at the conference. Typically, when I attended the meetings, I dwelled on the technical presentations and tried to know the scientists and doctors in person. However, after three years of attending cancer conferences, I became interested in the PRAs’ presentations.

It turned out that I had an incredible experience. I’ll write my experience from two aspects. One is joining the Science Survivor Program, and the other is what I learned from the technical presentations.

The Science Survivor Program

The Science Survivor Program is a training program for the PRAs started in 1993. It provides an opportunity for PRAs to learn about cancer research and to interact with scientists, doctors, and other advocates.2 It had a six-day schedule, from Program Opening to special interest sessions and working group sessions. We were divided into several teams. Two mentors contacted me, and immediately we started to work.

I was impressed by the Science Survivor Program, especially since we were treated as equal partners, meaning they were there to help us, BUT the PRAs were expected to work hard at the same time. I could feel the pressure. Some PRAs even gently complained. However, I believed that without pressure, we couldn’t achieve anything. At the final meeting to showcase each team’s final presentation, I couldn’t be more proud of each team’s presentation quality.

Getting to know two mentors

I was assigned to Advocate Team 1 with four ladies and two mentors, LJ and DKA. By nature, it takes me a while to feel comfortable talking to someone if I ever feel comfortable. But, to my surprise, I was at ease talking to LJ and DAK, which didn’t happen to me often. Both mentors are African Americans and are experienced in advocacy. LJ is an assistant professor in basic biomedical sciences, and her current professional role also includes key leadership roles in training, education, and outreach. DAK is the co-founder of a non-profit center that provides information and assistance to cancer-diagnosed patients, their families, and friends. In addition, she advocates for underserved communities bringing their concerns to cancer researchers.

I was impressed, and firstly, the two mentors were so outgoing. DAK was like a firecracker. She didn’t feel intimated or pressured by whom she would talk to, famous scientists or celebrities. She expressed what she believed to be correct. She has joined the Science Survivor Program for several years, and she was not shy away from talking about the “program problems,” which was eye-opening for me. In the session about training the next generation of oncology leasers, she was fearless in talking about the cancer patients’ feelings of insecurity, some unfortunate behavior of the doctors, and even some leaders’ ignorance. She was the first cancer patient I’ve seen to speak her mind freely. It needs guts to do it.

LJ is a bit less open like she said that sometimes patients were blunter, and academics were somehow restricted. However, she always attended when patients talked about “difficult topics.” What impressed me was that she would go the extra mile to help us have a good experience at the conference. In the end, I felt so fortunate to know them, and we still keep in touch after the meeting.

Learning how to make posters

I’ve been preparing the lung cancer posters before AACR Annual Meeting 2022, and I’m thinking about designing posters based on my own experience. Although there are instructions on preparing the posters, I always have questions like, what’s the suitable content, what’s the purposes, and who is the audience. After talking to LJ and DAK, they gave me more than ten posters covering various topics.

I also know that I need a “push” to prepare my first poster, and it’s a “hump” I have to overcome. But it’s like DAK understood me. She constantly encouraged me and told me, “just do it.” So I was finally ready to prepare a poster for the next AACR Annual Meeting.

Takeaways from AACR Annual Meeting 2022

AACR Annual Meeting 2022 is a great conference. Knowing the two mentors made it easier to be a part of the conference, see the scope of cancer advocacy, and connect with other advocates and scientists. It’s also great to learn to prepare posters, but above all, the Science Survivor Program is a fantastic program that I recommend to any PRAs.

I’m going to write Part II about my experiences in scientific programs.

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