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Should Patient Advocates Attend the AACR Conference?

In mid-April, I attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) for the second year in a row. This conference brings together over 20,000 cancer researchers, oncologists, other medical and industry professionals, and advocates who are all working towards improving cancer outcomes through research.

Why should patient advocates attend?

AACR changes the location of its Annual Meeting each year; it was easy for me to attend this year because it took place in Chicago which is where I live. Last year, however, the annual meeting was located in Washington, D.C. and I was able to attend as a result of a special program for patient advocates called the Scientist-Survivor program.

The Scientist-Survivor program (SSP) brings together about 40-50 advocates from all cancer organ sites and offers a structure for these advocates to work together along with scientist mentors. In addition to making valuable contacts for future collaboration, advocates attend special small-group sessions led by prominent scientists, present advocacy posters at the conference poster sessions, and attend general sessions that are of interest to them personally.

Working side-by-side with researchers

If you are interested in research, I highly encourage you to look into attending AACR through this program! It’s an excellent (and expenses paid) way to increase your knowledge about what’s going on in cancer research and meet other advocates. At AACR, I was able to attend numerous sessions related to lung cancer developments, talk with poster presenters about novel research and clinical trials, and visit pharmaceutical companies and other industry members at exhibit booths. I found that so many people were interested in meeting and discussing their work with a lung cancer patient; several had never spoken to a patient at a medical conference before me!

The conference was also a great opportunity to meet with busy medical professionals one-on-one. Since I am one of the co-founders of the EGFR Resisters patient group, there were several researchers whom I was very interested in speaking with individually and I was able to connect with them since they were all in the same place at the same time! A friend and fellow lung cancer advocate who was part of SSP this year generously shared her hotel room with me so I didn’t need to drive back and forth from my home in the suburbs for the multi-day conference. This made it possible for me to network informally at breakfasts and evening receptions as well.

New opportunities to share our stories

Being an alum of SSP, I was asked to participate in a special community program this year that was part of the Chicago Tribune Expo and was open to the public. After a one-hour session during which AACR leaders shared presentations about AACR’s focus in cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and future efforts, I was part of a panel along with two fellow advocates and SSP alums. We had the opportunity to share our patient and advocacy stories with attendees and answer their questions. It was a great way to communicate some of the excitement of the conference with those in the community.

Next up for me will be the American Association of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in June, also in Chicago. If I have any readers who plan to attend this conference, please let me know!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.