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First-Time ASH Impressions: What Happens in New Orleans Doesn't Stay in New Orleans

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New Orleans, LA December 10, 2013 - I had heard that what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans. This weekend as an IMF support group leader, I had the opportunity to attend the ASH convention here with the International Myeloma Foundation courtesy of some generous pharma grants. For four days I found myself surrounded by something in the neighborhood of ten thousand VIPs (very intelligent people). There were oncologists and hematologists, researchers, clinicians, and cancer experts from across the globe. I used to think I was a little bit smart!

ASH, the American Society of Hematology's Annual Convention, is where all these great minds collaborate, bringing together their research efforts and sharing the latest findings. The bottom line is that it doesn't stay in New Orleans. It trickles down and eventually may end up in your local oncologists' office or, courtesy of the IMF, perhaps your support group meeting. My blog is my small effort to present observations from one humble first-time ASH attendee who is a patient and support group leader in Tampa Bay. 

One of the IMF's goals is to raise awareness for myeloma in the sea of cancers. Multiple myeloma still finds itself obscured by the more "popular" cancers and many people are still unaware of its existence. The goal is to promote awareness without people actually having to contract the disease (not the preferred way to hear about it), with the end result being more research and funding to find a cure. I can verify that it is working. Every single ASH presentation on multiple myeloma was overflowing. One in particular yesterday required opening two overflow rooms and there were still people crowding around monitors in the hallways. 

I could try to address some of the specifics presented this weekend, but better summaries will be available on some of the IMF webcasts and other resources in the coming days. To be honest, many of the presentations are somewhat over a first timer's head. However I will share my impressions. Multiple myeloma is getting more attention and great things are in the pipeline. New therapies and drug combinations are producing results and showing even more promise going forward. Genetic advances are providing new insights on the disease and its treatment. 

This is still a cancer with more questions than answers. One of the things that always strikes and amuses me is that there is frequently as much disagreement as there is agreement among the experts in the field. We must continue to ask the questions and seek the ultimate answers. As patients it is critical that we be involved in our disease since there is frequently not one correct answer or solution.  

Finally, we need to be aware that a clinical trial may be a great option for us to consider as patients. Many people think of participating in a clinical trial as offering themselves up as guinea pig, but that is far from the reality. They provide variation on some of the best treatment options available and usually entail unsurpassed monitoring which you couldn't buy if you wanted to. Best of all, you might find your results being presented at a future ASH convention as part of the next step to a cure. 

Jim Barth
Tampa Bay Support Group Leader

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