It was a great day, with a large room at the Simches Research Center packed to the brim with survivors and caregivers. We all enjoyed a light breakfast, accompanied by guitarist Michael Caruso (Jazz for a Cure) and then after opening comments from Liz Brunner of WCBV NewsCenter 5, thoracic oncologist Dr. Lecia Sequist gave us a primer on the genetic underpinnings of cancer formation (abnormal DNA makes abnormal protein…etc, etc…) and then an overview of targeted therapies. It was fascinating and underscored my conviction that personalized medicine will soon render chemotherapy a thing of the past.
Next up was a panel composed of four patients as well as three caregivers from the Mass General Cancer Center Staff. This part of the program is always a crowd pleaser, as there is something both moving and inspirational about hearing patients talk about their own journeys. They each made wonderful contributions; I loved the comment about the gratitude felt each day simply for ‘being verticle’. And then the hilarious yet also poignant description of the ‘flossing enigma’—that moment, where you look at your situation (terminal) and wonder if you even need to continue flossing. This explanation was made in response to a question from the audience about making plans. After we all stopped laughing, the panelist went on to explain that yes, you do need to keep planning for the future. After all, he had already lived quite a few years past his original prognosis.
One of the panelists was a very young man, Basem Gawish. He articulated extraordinarily well the need to ‘split your soul from your body’ when feeling physically diminished by your disease and attendant treatment. He described lying in a hospital bed and yet running and leaping in his mind—just beautiful.
Next up was my dear friend Jay Gupta, from Yogacaps, Inc. He gave a brief oral history of yoga and then led the crowd through a series of moves that can be done in one’s chair. His wife Terry (also my dear friend and Jay’s partner in Yogacaps) helped him demonstrate and when Jay asked if I would too, I didn’t say no. First time for everything—I am generally a back of the room girl. Anyway, it was fun to have that vantage point, particularly when Jay got to the part where he had everyone flap their hands above their heads as if we were preparing to take flight—all those moving arms in the air provided an indelible image.
We then broke for a boxed lunch, which gave us a nice chant to chat (and to listen to more pleasing music compliments of Michael Caruso). After lunch we returned to our seats for one more presentation, as Susan Pollak, who is the president of The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, led us through some mindfulness exercises. It was a gentle way to end the day.
So thank you to all those who made this conference possible, including Susan Zuker and the Conquer Cancer Coalition of Massachusetts, who provided generous funding. Until next year!
*The conference was videotaped and will be made available online.