By Evgeniya Kharchenko, MD
Quite clearly I remember March 25, 2017, when I received a letter with the notification that I won an International Development Educational Award (IDEA) from ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation. It was an incredible and unexpected surprise for me. I will not be discussing this absolutely special time in my life, however, but will focus on further events that came after.
When the ASCO Annual Meeting and my IDEA practice at Huntsman Cancer Center had ended, I left the U.S. with a large amount of new thoughts and ideas, dreaming of creating a local society for young specialists in Russia with ASCO’s values.
That was quite a difficult path, but I was inspired and unstoppable. Bureaucratic issues, indifference to the project, and disbelief were just a small part of all that I faced. But all the time I repeated my favorite quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
I got lucky and two of my mentors decided to support my idea. Our chair of young scientists in my institute, Dr. Kireeva, created the name Science and Practice in Oncology Training, or SPOT. SPOT sounds quite similar to “sport” so it was a good reason for ridicule. In July 2017 there were only six members in our SPOT team, but by the end of 2017, due to information support by Dr. Komarov, there were more than 600 participants in our Facebook group.
The first event under the SPOT auspices was dedicated to breast cancer. Our professor and head of the scientific department, Dr Tatiana Semiglazova,was the chair at that meeting. We combined all the best aspects from international societies and created something truly our own and unique. Ten competitive travel grants for young specialists younger than age 35 from all over Russia were provided by our society. Despite being a new, unrecommended project with a doubtful reputation, finally two pharmaceutical companies kindly agreed to support us. Dozens of physicians in the oncology field from all over the country, such as medical and surgical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and basic scientists, applied for travel grants to attend our conference. The meeting lasted for 2 days with online translation and together with online participants we had more than 300 young delegates not only from Russia but also from post-Soviet Union countries. That was breathtaking; that was our small success!
Participants had a chance to present their clinical cases after every lecture and discuss them with senior oncologists. The best case was awarded a 2-week practice in our national institute in the pathology unit under the direction of the head of the department, Dr. Artemeva.
Inspired by our success, we decided to have this kind of meeting not only four times a year, but weekly like a journal club. For sure, the ambitions of these weekly events were much smaller. We had the aim just to support our residents in oncology training. So we followed the same format: discussing clinical cases with a senior oncologist’s overview, then we continue to study in pathology lab, combining our theoretical and practical skills. Every week we shared highlights of the meeting in our Facebook group. After a couple of months, young specialists from Russia and post-Soviet Union countries asked us to create an online translation of our journal club. The glory of our small, unpretentious project continues to spread all over and outside the country.
Our next quarterly event on lung cancer had the same success and next the focus will be on immunotherapy and colorectal cancer. Ten travel grants are waiting for our next SPOT team.
Spreading the best cancer care all over the world is ASCO’s main mission. I remember how Dr. Daniel F. Hayes, ASCO’s 2016-2017 president, said to me and other IDEA recipients in 2017, “Go and fight with cancer!” Now I’m fighting as hard as I can and my weapon is knowledge.
Dr. Kharchenko is a medical oncologist in the Department of Innovative Methods of Therapeutic Oncology and Rehabilitation at N.N Petrov Research Institute of Oncology, Russia. She is a 2017 recipient of ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s International Development and Education Award.