The conference part of my trip is over. It’s kind of intense to be surrounded by the topic of cancer for four days, not necessarily in a depressing way, it’s just kind of consuming. And as much as having cancer is a part of my life on a day-to-day basis, it holds nowhere near as predominant place as it did this weekend. It can make it difficult to know people — introductions are done by sharing the kind of cancer you had and how it was diagnosed, things that are important at something like this but the fact of someone else having cancer or having had cancer doesn’t automatically mean we’re simpatico. Interactions are often so brief that it’s difficult to see the facets of a person beyond their cancer diagnosis.
This is not to say I didn’t meet interesting people whom I’ve connected with or shared contact information with. But those meetings happened in brief moments at the end of a meal or after a session before we all moved on to the next. If I were to make any suggestion, I would ask for half an hour after sessions and workshops for people to simply hang around and talk. Because it’s hard to track down that one person in the back of the room who said something profound that you want to ask more about when they are rushing off to grab a coffee and get to a conference room on the other side of the building in only 15 minutes.
The sessions were good. The content was interesting, the presenters were dynamic. The session I was most interested in, the one that was added to the schedule after I noticed there wasn’t anything addressing people with metastatic or advanced or incurable cancers on the program, was great but too short at an hour. I could have spent an entire day in sessions and workshops on the topic. It’s the place where you’re mostly likely to find others in clinical trials or doing unconventional treatments, people who also don’t plan for anything beyond three months in the future. It’s an area that is underserved both in research and advocacy, but it’s also an area where more frequently we’ll be seeing people agitating for acknowledgment and better treatment options.
I heard a lot of people this weekend talking about how they didn’t really know what their role was at the conference — do they need the support, should they be supporting, what support do they need? People who are newly diagnosed and in treatment need something other than those recently out of treatment need, who need something different from what people many years out of treatment need, who need something different from what those of us living with cancer as a condition which is not going to go away need. My perfect conference would have sessions on genometrics, on how to access resources and information as a patient, on how to search for clinical trials or how to request compassionate use of a drug, on how to write a will or an advanced directive or plan a funeral. But that really wouldn’t be the conference for the newly “cured”.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go to another cancer conference. I suppose it’ll depend on the topics and where the conference is held. I never need to come back to Vegas ever again. Holding an emotionally fraught conference in a casino is a really terrible idea. It’s smokey, it’s dark, it’s overwhelming, it’s loud — there is no place to escape to, even the pools are loud (well, the one where I am staying is pretty low-key, but there is still a lot of music playing). The only perk is that it is sunny and hot, so if you manage to find a way to spend time outside, it can be pretty nice.
On that note, I’m going to hit the pool.