The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) occurs every year and is the largest gathering of breast cancer researchers and clinicians in the world that I know about. I’ve attended the conference in person the last two years and it’s overwhelming in size and content. For 2020, as with most conferences, SABCS shifted it’s content to digital/virtual only. One of the great things is that SABCS heeded the efforts made by other organizations and made the cost for patient advocates to attend $0.00. Those fees (in addition to traveling and hotel costs) make a lot of conferences out of reach for most patient advocates and this change is extremely helpful.
I’ve included a few of my thoughts about SABCS overall this year …
First of all, for anyone who finds the scientific information overwhelming (like me), I’m particularly enjoying that everything is recorded and the presentation documents (like power points) are available after the live sessions too. I’m not quick enough or confident enough to ask questions of the presenters during the sessions and often have to circle back once I’ve googled all the terms I didn’t know. This also means that I have slides or other details to ask my doctor about at my next appointment. I’ve also found that many researchers are more willing to respond to an individual email rather than accosting them after a prevention amongst all the other attendees.
Secondly, the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation has been streaming live information as well as their “Hot Topics” daily sessions, which are amazing. These are the best sessions to attend as the doctors invited to speak are able to distill the most important elements of the day into verbiage that is accessible for lay people. I highly recommend these sessions.
Third, my favorite part of the scientific conferences is the GRASP program. GRASP stands for “Guiding Researchers and Advocates to Scientific Partnerships” and is the brainchild of other MBC-havers in honor of an MBC advocate we lost in 2019. Their program for SABCS has opened up this week for applications and will occur next week. GRASP selects specific posters and then puts together groups that include researchers, clinicians, and advocates (both new and experienced) to review the new science in a small group. I’ve learned SO MUCH every time I’ve participated and I highly recommend participation for everyone.
Fourth, some of my most treasured contacts in the breast cancer world are the researchers I’ve met at scientific conferences and stay in touch with. A friend of mine was able to get into a trial because she connected with the CEO of a company running a clinical trial on Twitter. Watching for those researchers who are looking into something relevant to your care and connecting with them, I believe, is key. My medical oncologist and I have called scientists from our appointments as basic science questions come up.
Fifth, while I’m not a huge fan of how much the pharmaceutical companies market to doctors and all the flyers I get as an attendee, the conference is a good time to connect with the patient advocacy employees at each Pharma company. Each one has a patient advocacy office and their role is to be the Liasion between patients and the companies. I’ve found a lot of benefit by connecting with the patient advocacy office for me and others as questions come up and as we need assistance to get to the right people. Calling an 800-number is often time-consuming and the selections can be confusing, so getting a name and direct number can be key.
Sixth and finally, there are some amazing doctors and advocates who Tweet live from their attendance at the conference and I learn so much from each of them. If you follow the hashtags: #MedTwitter; #SABCS20; and #bcsm, you’ll be set with information. There are often discussions that ensue on Twitter between doctors, between researchers, between advocates that only further explain concepts. Not to be missed!
I hope one or some of these reflections are helpful for you — these big conferences are overwhelming and breaking down some of the ways to get information more easily has made navigation much easier.