I consider it a privilege to have played a role as Cancer Communications Committee Chair for ASCO. It’s been an honor to work with the dedicated team of professionals who ensure cancer is in the spotlight of our national media, and that progress remains front and center, both nationally and internationally. As preparations were actively underway for the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting, it was clear that my proverbial dance card would be once again filled—with meetings with collaborators about new agents and potential clinical trials, important work for ASCO committees, and editorial meetings. On top of this would be press briefings to moderate and attend and a press room to report to.
My calendar was already filled before I went to the iPlanner to identify the sessions of importance for me. As I plugged each in, I realized that I would be unable to attend many I had prioritized. Years before this would have left me with much angst—why would I be going to ASCO if I could not attend the meeting?!
This is where technology comes in. Since I couldn't go to every session that I wanted to attend, I turned to Twitter. I sought out those who were actually in the audience at the time, to see what was being said. Reading tweets from colleagues, including the moderators of the tweetchat #gyncsm—Dr Shannon Westin (@ShannonWestin), Rick Boulay (@journeycancer), and Dee Sparacio (@womenofteal)—it truly felt like I was in the audience, but at the same time, more intimately positioned side-by-side with other clinicians, advocates, and women who have lived the experience of ovarian cancer. The take-home points might have been similar, but the chance to read impressions from differing perspectives was even more important—a reminder that medicine is much more than p-values and statistical significance.
In addition, I took advantage of the technological support offered by ASCO, a group that has committed to improving the Annual Meeting experience by harnessing the capabilities of the digital sphere. For me, it meant the Virtual Meeting—the ability to watch sessions 24 hours after live presentation and to collate in advance those talks I would be most interested in seeing, via the Virtual Playlist. And so it went: Each morning I devoted an hour to playing back sessions from the day before—from Joan Walker’s talk on the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) 252 trial on Friday, Paul Goodfellow’s talk on microsatellite instability in endometrial cancer on Saturday, and the Oral Abstract Session on Sunday. I found myself sitting in the comfort of my room , listening to talks, pausing slides, and taking the time to look at the data presented until I was satisfied I understood. It was also wonderful to be able to listen to the session Discussants, those luminaries in our field who summarized the presented studies and aimed to make them relevant for the clinic, and the important questions from the audience. Even though I was not there, it was nice to be able to hear the authors questioned in a spirited and collegial way. Yes indeed, it was the next best thing to being there.
On Sunday, I was also returned to Twitter, taking in the release of data from the Plenary Session, including data on extended letrozole therapy for women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. The data came from the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) MA.17R trial and was presented by my colleague Paul Goss. As I checked with Twitter that morning, a tweet came out by ASCO:
— ASCO (@ASCO) June 5, 2016
I found it interesting that the “reduction in breast cancer recurrence” with 5 more years of letrozole was found “without compromising quality of life.” In reply, I tweeted:
— Don S Dizon (@drdonsdizon) June 5, 2016
I soon realized the power of Twitter, as it generated an unexpected side exchange, with colleagues, patients, and patient advocates, including tweets such as:
— BBeth Jo (@BBethJo) June 5, 2016
— Dr. Deanna Attai (@DrAttai) June 5, 2016
— Don S Dizon (@drdonsdizon) June 5, 2016
— april knowles (@akknowles1) June 5, 2016
— Stacey Tinianov (@coffeemommy) June 5, 2016
It was an illuminating conversation, where the importance of data proved its worth and the power of perspectives helped to illuminate ways to interpret the data. Once more, I appreciated the attention paid to digital engagement from the team at ASCO. It proved vital for those of us who wear other hats for the organization, which sometimes makes it difficult to truly be two places at once. For this, I am eternally grateful!
And, I got to follow @VP Joe Biden!!
— NCCS (@CancerAdvocacy) June 6, 2016