I had no preconceived idea of what ESMO 16 would be like, I applied with an open mind. How would it differ to other conferences in terms of the patient advocacy track would be the litmus test for me as a patient but also an advocate.
The Patient Track at ESMO made it feel I had a right to attend the conference – funny considering I am the one with the disease, the whole conference was based on!! But it has felt that way in the past, like you are being allowed to watch – this was different. This was not just for the medics, what we as a group had to say was just as important and relevant as anything that was revealed at the scientific presentation sessions. The topics covered were wide ranging and engaging, they ran not in parallel with the scientific sessions, but were given proper respect within the running order and it showed.
There was overflow needed for most Patient Track sessions, and those that were attending to listen were not just Patient Advocates, but the Oncologists, the Researchers, and the Pharma representatives. That’s because what we have to say is important and well informed – this is not our job it is our lives, so what could be more important to us?
Often the general public don’t understand the complexities of difference in cancer until you get one. It’s not a topic one reads up on for fun, most only keep up if they are personally connected. Also, all cancers are not created equal – it can become all too apparent that maybe you didn’t get the one with the most support or media air time or the most funding attached to researching it. But at the ESMO patient’s track this year I didn’t feel any of that. I felt instead part of a movement, a revolution of sorts that brought us all together bound by the one thing we have in common: a deep rooted desire to achieve the best for patients no matter what type of cancer they have. We are all in the same boat, there was no paddling your own canoe at ESMO.
“I felt part of a movement – a revolution of sorts”
Did I learn anything from my experience? YES. I am more confident in my connection now to Europe in my approach to my advocacy: I can reach out to many different branches of cancer communities, and advocacy support networks across the continent, and get help and information that’s still relevant to my community. We can help influence change that benefits patients wherever they live. Together, in solidarity we can achieve much more, we can work for equality of access and support for all, regardless of our cancer type or geographical location, we don’t leave anyone behind it’s a sort of unwritten rule, we go back to pick them up and carry them with us, all for one and one for all.
Kay Curtin also blogs at https://irishmelanomapatients.wordpress.com/