Having grown up in Brooklyn, NY, I’m quite used to large crowds. But walking through the halls at ASCO’s Annual Meeting remains an incredible and overwhelming experience. There are so many people, so many sessions, and so many meetings, that it can get overwhelming. There is so much going on.
So my eye concentrates on finding one thing: a little red dot.
What’s that, you ask? Oh, that little red dot on that oncologist’s ID badge?
That tells me that she belongs to my “Wolf Pack.” It signals to me that she is a fellow member of the Hematology Oncology Women’s Physicians Group (HOWPG), more recently renamed to the Hematology Oncology Wolf Pack Group after Abby Wambach’s inspirational Barnard College commencement speech went viral.
On May 18, 2018, famed soccer player Abby Wambach delivered a powerful commencement address at Barnard College. Her speech was shared widely on social media and also within HOWPG. Wambach shared her experience being one of the most celebrated soccer players in United States history and likened her transformation from a rule-abiding young girl to a transformative athlete and leader by telling the Barnard graduates:
“If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing it would be this: ‘Abby, you were never Little Red Riding Hood; you were always the wolf.’”
Thereafter, for the remainder of her commencement address, Wambach addressed the Barnard graduates as the “wolf pack” and encouraged them to use failure to fuel change, serve as female leaders, and demand that the world “give me the respect I’ve earned and give it to my wolf pack too.” After posting, viewing, sharing, and discussing Wambach’s address on social media, the women on HOWPG heeded Wambach’s call to action by renaming the group to “Hematology & Oncology Wolf Pack Group.”
Members of the HOWPG benefit greatly from the connectivity fostered by the group. Oncologists share clinical questions, career advice, and support to prevent burnout. Before the ASCO Annual Meeting this year, members traveling to Chicago made plans to support each other in a number of ways, including meeting in person and by attending each other’s presentations.
Take this testimonial from Dr. Shikha Jain, a fellow member of the group:
“At this year’s ASCO [Annual Meeting], for the first time I did not feel like the conference was too big or overwhelming, because I had this network of women who were helping me navigate. The WhatsApp group kept me abreast of any ‘big events’ that were happening, and because of previous Facebook conversations over messenger, or within the group, I felt like I personally knew many of the presenters. This made the entire conference seem much more intimate than it obviously is with its gargantuan size.
“When I heard Dr. Stephanie Graff and Dr. Julia Close speak about negotiating, and I heard Dr. Rachna Shroff and Dr. Nina Shah speak at the inaugural ASCO Voices session, I felt like I knew these women, and could relate to them. During the educational sessions, the updates I was receiving from those in sessions I could not attend were incredibly helpful, and kept me informed throughout the conference. Whenever I would meet a fellow HOWPG member, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity in real life.
“I feel so fortunate this group exists. It has been able to help me not only transition into attending-hood, but also allowed me to navigate a conference that, in previous years, has felt too unwieldy and overwhelming to gain much out of it. For the first time, I feel like I actually made the most of my ASCO experience, and absorbed more than I have in past years. Thank you, Wolf Pack, for having my back, even if you didn't always know you did.”
Dr. Lauren Carcas shared:
“I was jealous I wasn't at ASCO 2018 to share the HOWPG conference experience. For those of us not at the conference, the Facebook updates shared by our members in attendance have been awesome!”
I echo Dr. Jain’s and Dr. Carcas’ sentiments. I feel very fortunate to be a member of HOWPG. Attending the ASCO Annual Meeting was a great reminder of the importance of our social media-based networking; each time I “met” a HOWPG member for the first time, it felt like meeting a close old friend. I look forward to growing our community of support, both online and at future meetings.
HOWPG founder Dr. Suzanne Cole (back row center) with members of HOWPG at the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting.
Dr. Reshma Jagsi and Dr. Knoll at the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting.
Dr. Neelima Denduluri and Dr. Tiffany Traina host members of HOWPG at ASCO's Conquer Cancer Foundation fundraising event at Tory Burch during the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting. All photos courtesy of Dr. Knoll.