“Are you a member of ASCO?”
I distinctly remember being asked that question in 1984, during my second year as a fellow at what was then the Sidney Farber (now Dana-Farber) Cancer Institute. My first reaction: “What’s an ASCO?”
Turned out it was a) the Society that many of my mentors had or would ultimately become President of; and b) at that time, it was mostly the group that held nice meetings—my first was in the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
And now? ASCO has become the largest professional clinical oncology organization in the world, with more than 40,000 members, its own headquarters building in Alexandria, VA, and a staff of more than 400. This year, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 37,500 attendees at our Annual Meeting, representing our profession from all corners of the globe.
The question I’m asked now is, “I hear you are the President of ASCO?” and my answer is an incredulous “Yes!”
To call it “such an honor” may be a bit of a cliché, but in my case, and in every case of every ASCO President I’ve spoken to, that statement is truly genuine. What a thrill (and honor!) to represent so many people dedicated to one goal: improving the care of patients at risk for, or with, cancer. That’s it. Plain and simple. Of course, the details are complicated, but we’re all in this together, exemplified by the relatively new name of our philanthropic organization: the Conquer Cancer Foundation. That’s what it’s all about.
Having completed my year as President-Elect, I have been struck by the many facets in which ASCO does indeed endeavor to conquer cancer—which leads to my Presidential theme, "ASCO: Making a Difference in Cancer Care with You."
So what does that mean? Whether you are a clinician, a researcher, an educator, or all three; a medical, radiation, or surgical oncologist, or all three; a clinical or a diagnostic physician, or both, ASCO has a multitude of offerings, programs, and initiatives for you. Whether you’re a doctor, a nurse, a physician’s assistant, or in any other profession that touches patients with cancer, ASCO has a multitude of offerings, programs, and initiatives for you. Whether you live, practice, do research, or provide education in the United States, elsewhere in North or South America, or overseas, ASCO has a multitude of offerings, programs, and initiatives for you. Whether you’ve been doing what you do for 3 years or 30 years, ASCO has a multitude of offerings, programs, and initiatives for you.
Should I go on? Yes! Because mostly, if you are a patient with cancer, a survivor who has had cancer, or have a loved one, friend, or colleague who has had cancer or is surviving it, that’s right—ASCO has a multitude of offerings, programs, and initiatives for you.
ASCO is a big tent. Why? Because we fundamentally believe that improving the care of patients is not only the right thing to do, it is an achievable goal if we all row in the same direction. In discussing the visionary and exciting Cancer Moonshot Initiative, Vice President Joe Biden made a joking, but somewhat disconcerting, reference to cancer politics, and how they make Washington politics look laid back. He’s partly right, but I believe and hope he’s mostly wrong. I could not be more proud of the teamwork and interaction—among our clinicians, our researchers, our educators, and everyone who touches the lives of people with cancer—that have led to the amazing advances we have seen since ASCO’s seven founding members met in a hotel room 50-plus years ago and said, “We need to talk to each other.”
In my Presidency, I hope to bring even more folks into the tent. I am particularly excited about our new “ringmaster”—incoming CEO Cliff Hudis, who will take the reins after an unbelievable decade of growth and success under the leadership of Allen Lichter, who will retire this month.
We are at an inflection point in the field, but I can assure you this transition will go smoothly. Dr. Hudis has been my friend and colleague in the breast cancer community for over 2 decades, and I have seen his intellect, vision, common sense, and people skills in action. He and I have already begun to put our heads together, and we will not miss a beat as Dr. Lichter steps down; indeed, we’ll keep moving forward.
In future conversations, I will describe some of the many initiatives underway that will be game-changers for you, our members and our patients.
I look forward to this exciting year—and I hope you’ll feel free to introduce yourself, say hi at the Annual Meeting, or drop me a line if you think there is more we can do to make the difference that our patients expect and deserve.