Friday, June 26, 2015

Science , Communities and Life with Cancer- The 3rd Annual AstraZeneca Bloggers Summit

On June 24th,  I attended the 3rd Annual AstraZeneca Bloggers Summit.  The day gave me an opportunity to meet other bloggers and to learn about social media and topics of interest to cancer patients and survivors.

What I learned at the Summit can be separated into three areas-science, communities and life with cancer.

The Science:
Photo provided by AstraZeneca
Deborah Torgersen-Paul, PhD (Executive Medical Science Liaison, AstraZeneca) presented the Evolution of Science and Understanding Cancer. Dr Torgersen-Paul began her presentation with a discussion of how the Human Genome Project changed our understanding of cancer.  She then went on to explained the role of oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, cell death from chemotherapy and apoptosis( a cells normal death). She described driver mutations and how small molecules (such as Parp inhibitors) are used. She also discussed immunotherapy (which I heard a lot about while at the ASCO meeting this year). Some cancers don't stimulate the immune system as well as others so if we can find ways to boost our body's immune system the better we can destroy the cancer cells.  She also described work going on in immuno-oncology in which chemotherapy and immunotherapy are given together.  Lastly, she spoke of the research into circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) , also  called a liquid biopsy,  and its role in screening for different cancers.

 After the presentation we took a tour of the Phase 1 laboratories at MedImmune where the Summit was held.
Oncology Bloggers at the Summit had the opportunity to see the MedImmune Phase1 labs.

Our Communities:

Photo provided by AstraZeneca
Ciaran Blumenthal (@momfluential) , a social media and marketing expert provided insight into "The Story of Us: Best Practices for Growing Communities Online". We ( the oncology bloggers)  were all at the summit because we share our story with a community of followers. Ciaran began by defining a community and the differences between online and "in real life" communities. She then talked about how characters can develop the community - content creators, experts, influencers and supersharers. She stressed the importance of the Hashtag in social media. From my own experience, the #gyncsm hashtag has been important in growing and sharing information among members of the gynecologic cancer community especially between our monthly chats. She then went on to discuss online platforms - blogs, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and the strategies that can be used to grow a community. She stressed how content is key!

Life with Cancer:

Photo provided by AstraZeneca
Sage Bolte PhD, director of Life With Cancer,  presented the afternoon sessions geared toward different aspects of living with cancer.

Did you know that patients should be asked their distress level at each doctor visit? Studies have shown that 50% of all cancer patients experience a high level of distress ( emotional , mental, social, spiritual) during treatment. Lung, pancreatic and brain cancer patients report the highest levels. One in four cancer patients will experience depression. It has also been found that patients with lower quality of life experience more depression. When a person has situational depression it has been found that as the stressors patients experience subside so does the depression . When clinical depression occurs medication and therapy( cognitive or behavioral) may be prescribed.

Then Dr. Bolte talked about anxiety and fear.  I could definitely relate. To this day when I have to have a CA-125 test or CT scan my anxiety level shoots through the roof.  And it was good to see some of the things I use to calm down were listed in Dr Bolte's list of things to do to deal with anxiety.
  • Stillness- prayer, mediation, allow to grieve, acknowledge ( I have a favorite mantra.)
  • Motion- exercise, journaling, etc ( I love to paint when I am  anxious.)
  • Ignore- this is ok for short periods of time ( When I learned my friend had passed last month I did choose to ignore it for a few hours. )
For the last session of the day, Dr. Bolte talked about Sexuality and Intimacy. Health care providers are as reluctant as patients to discuss the impact surgery and treatment have on the sexual life of their patients. A number of sexual challenges occur when a person has cancer:
  • Cancer itself
  • Psychological Distress
  • Cancer Therapy
  • Side Effects
  • Alterations in relationships
One of the physical problems associated with the instant menopause many women enter into after gynecologic cancer surgery or due to cancer treatment is vaginal stenosis- a narrowing of the vaginal canal. There are a number of techniques ( dialators, lubricants ) that can be used when the condition develops.

As I was listening to Dr Bolte I noticed that the key word she kept using was communication. Cancer patients / survivors should communicate with their partner, spouse, family, friends and physician so everyone is aware of what you need and don't need. I can agree with that 100%.

One of the best parts of the Summit was being able to spend time with the other bloggers. Since I follow most of the bloggers online it was wonderful meeting them in person. Below is a list of my fellow blogger's names as well as links to their blogs and twitter handles. 

Katie Brown - Lung cancer
Website/blog: & 
Twitter @LUNGevity & @brownbeansprout

Dian “CJ” Corneliussen-James - metastatic breast cancer
Twitter @METAvivor

Katherine O'Brien - metastatic breast cancer
Twitter @ihatebreastcanc

Jennifer Campisano- metastatic breast cancer
Twitter @Jcampisano

Alana Ray Osborne  - general cancer
Twitter @alanaray40

Thank you AstraZeneca and MedImmune for such an informative day!

Every Day is a Blessing!

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