Last month I had the opportunity to attend my first OMG! Cancer Summit in Las Vegas. Before I went, I wasn't sure what to expect and had a few questions in mind:
- Would I be able to take home a few key messages that applied to my work in Canada?
- Would I think that the summit is something that the young adults I work with would be interested in attending in the future?
- Would I enjoy the event?
The answer to all of these questions: Yes.
The young adult cancer movement still has a tremendous amount left to do. While that sometimes may feel overwhelming for us who volunteer and work in the field, it is important that we sit back and celebrate the successes as they come. I would personally like to congratulate Matthew Zachary and his team (Kenny Kane, Alli Ward and Maureen Sweet) on a job well done. What Stupid Cancer has created with this event is an inspiring conference that brings together advocates, caregivers, health professionals and young adults from all corners of the USA and beyond. With over 450 attendees and representation from multiple organizations, something of this size could have easily come off as rather cold and academic. Instead, it was loving, supportive and beautiful.
The conference allowed people to choose sessions which were applicable to their current needs. For a complete look at all of the sessions and presenters, go here.
- An opening keynote address by Dr. Roni Zeiger
- Information around genomics shared by Dr. Leonard Sender, the Medical Director of the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children's; Pediatric Subspecialty Faculty Division Chief of Oncology; and Director of Clinical Operations and Program Development at the UC Irvine Health's Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Dr. Troy McEachron of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children's National Medical Center
- A discussion around issues concerning communication and healthy relationships relevant to survivors and caregivers led by Mike Lang, Bonnie Lang and Pat Taylor (presented with clips from the web series "Valleys")
- A session called "Cancer as Chronic" that discussed the needs of young adults living with advanced cancer
- A discussion just for girls with Tamika Felder and Dr. Sage Bolte
- A discussion just for guys with Dr. Brandon Hayes-Lattin, Jasan Zimmerman, Jonny Imerman and Matt Ferstler
- Information for LGBT young adults living with cancer
- A closing keynote with Dr. Dan Shapiro
Similar to what Heidi Adams reported in "Vegas, Baby!", one thing that struck me as a powerful element of the conference is that in addition to the number of incredible survivors, like Heidi and Matthew Zachary, who have created their own non-profits, there are a number of passionate survivors who volunteer their time and skills to ensure that other young adults living with cancer have the tools, support and resources that they need. This was evident by the young adults who volunteered to help Stupid Cancer run the event who include, but are not limited to: Scott Slater, Jen Stewart, Thea Linscott, Melinda Hood, Melissa Weiss, Paul Berman, Erica Mlot, Jason Mlot, Hannah Hansen and Brian Thompson. The incredible dedication and compassion of these young adults was shown in how they welcomed newcomers with loving arms, ensuring anyone who attended this conference alone surely did not leave that way. This devotion was also seen in other young adults attending the conference who are giving back to the cancer community and contributing to the young adult cancer movement. I had the opportunity to meet:
- Catherine Blotner, a blogger and developer of #btsm tweet chats
- Members of the Young People's Advisory Committee at Teen Cancer America (Daniel Bral and Matthew Cirac)
- Vanessa Ghigliotty, a volunteer advocate for the Colon Cancer Alliance
- And many others.
At the end of the conference, the team at Stupid Cancer announced the launch of Cancer Con, an international event for young adults living with cancer that will unite patient advocacy, clinical research and health technology. It is clear that this will be an event that surely can't be missed. For more information, check out their website cancercon.org