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A Day With the Doctors

I spent the day last week in a meeting with doctors and researchers who gathered to discuss ocular melanoma, or melanoma of the eye.  It was the first bi-annual scientific meeting of CURE OM, the MRF’s program focusing on this rare cancer.  Spending 11 hours discussing the science of this cancer was informative and, frankly, rather exhausting.  Several things struck me about this meeting:

  • Some three dozen people volunteered their time to travel from across the country and Europe so they could sit in a windowless hotel meeting room, eat cafeteria-type food, and discuss the best ways to advance the understanding of this cancer.  This reflects amazing commitment to helping patients live longer and better.
  • Finding ways to collaborate across research centers and disciplines is essential to accelerating progress.  We cannot afford the price of institutional and professional rivalry, and the commitment of these researchers to collaborate with each other was impressive .  
  • With rare cancers and cancers in which the field is changing quickly, the place where a patient receives their care and the professional who provides that care, can have a significant impact on how long and how well they live.  People fighting this disease must be ready to advocate for themselves and seek out second, third and fourth opinions, fearless of offending anyone.
  • Despite tremendous progress in understanding the biology of cancer, we still have too many unanswered questions.  Cancer cells are riddled with mutations that give them the ability to do something they should never be able to do—divide out of control, avoid being destroyed by the immune system, shut down the normal self-destruct mechanisms.  This makes these cancer cells remarkably difficult to kill.

Most of all, though, I was struck by the atmosphere of hope.  At the end of the meeting, we described several specific actions that CURE OM can coordinate that will advance the science, improve standards of care for patients, and facilitate collaboration.  For me, that was a very long day, very well spent.