What a great decision the ASCO Board of Directors made to hold this year’s long-awaited ASCO Annual Meeting scientific program (#ASCO20) virtually at the end of May, rather than postponing it! The great lesson is that the new advances in research and care for patients with cancer should remain a priority and be disseminated even in the presence of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Like so many members and non-members doing research and caring for patients, the ASCO Annual Meeting has become an annual ritual for me and my colleagues. We cherish going to ASCO; for over 10 consecutive years we have loved going to Chicago, which has become like a second home for us. We go to the ASCO Annual Meeting to listen, participate, and present scientific and educational sessions, but also to meet our colleagues and friends—the clinicians, researchers, investigators, clinical trialists, and experts who gather from all over the world. We also go to participate in ASCO committee business meetings with other volunteers, staff, and leadership. Such committee meetings are so important for ASCO to be able to continue to plan and to serve the oncology community and patients with cancer worldwide and year-round.
Year after year, we wait for ASCO to reconnect with important people in our lives: old friends, people with whom we went to medical school, people with whom we trained, people with whom we spent the hardest years of our lives as interns, residents, and fellows, people who served as our teachers and mentors, people whom we trained and mentored and who have now become colleagues, prominent oncologists and leaders, and people with whom we meet regularly at other oncology meetings. We feel sad that we will miss those face-to-face connections this year.
We will miss the ASCO Annual Meeting’s special events and social events. We will miss person-to-person discussions between experts, clinicians, researchers, donors, patient advocates, and career searchers, as well as the poster gatherings. We will miss the applause, awards, and standing ovations. We will miss McCormick Place’s halls, meeting rooms, large and small conference rooms, booths, exhibits, lunch and coffee stands, lobby, and the ASCO decorations that float above and welcome us; we will miss the stairs, the Sky Bridge, the lakeside terraces, the hotel buses, and even the taxi lines. We will also miss McCormick Place’s staff and security, and picking up copies of ASCO Daily News. We will miss enjoying Chicago and its greatness. We will miss its hotels, restaurants, piers, and its beautiful skyline, fantastic scenery, and jazz!
ASCO20 Virtual will be different. We will be in different time zones—some of us will be logging in during the daytime, some in the evening, others late at night! Some of us will be at home, some will be in their offices, others will be at hospitals, catching presentations between clinical responsibilities. Most of us who are still under lockdown and respecting social distancing will have to be alone in their homes or offices, or in very small groups in conference rooms. Those of us who are parents of young children or caregivers to other family members will be balancing our participation in ASCO20 Virtual with our personal responsibilities.
In Lebanon, we have started re-opening gradually, but we are still under eased lockdown. We have made plans at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (@AUB_Lebanon, @AUBMC_Official) to be at the hospital for a 3-day ASCO long weekend! This year, all our hematology/oncology faculty and fellows feel lucky to be able to attend the meeting: nobody is traveling and nobody is covering! Many of us have offices on the same floor. We made plans to periodically walk out and discuss presentations in between sessions in the corridors. We will have a few people in our conference rooms where we will keep empty chairs to respect physical distancing. We are asking people to bring their own food. People in other areas who are not under lockdown may make plans to be together in conference rooms or even at hotels, provided that they make sure that all people participating are registered for the ASCO20 Virtual Scientific Program. It would be nice if ASCO would share the ASCO20 logo and banner designs with participants, and for all those who wish, so that we can print them and place them at our hospitals and in our corridors!
Finally, we should not forget that we are the lucky ones who have survived the COVID-19 pandemic for now, and are able to participate in ASCO20 Virtual. We will always remember our colleagues who spent hard days and nights treating patients with COVID-19. We remember colleagues and friends who got sick, recovered, or died from COVID-19. By holding its scientific program on time, ASCO and the entire oncology community make a pledge that we will continue advancing and offering the best care for our patients worldwide.
I feel so sad that I cannot go to the ASCO Annual Meeting at McCormick Place this year. It is hard. I love ASCO. I love Chicago. We love ASCO. We love Chicago. We hope to have a treatment or a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 by next year, so that we can meet again in Chicago for #ASCO21!