This blog will cover topics of interest that affect our community. Unless otherwise stated, the blog articles will be written by Sue Friedman, Executive Director of FORCE.

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Highlights from the 2018 Joining FORCEs Conference

January 31, 2019

Our Joining FORCEs conference informs, inspires and supports the hereditary cancer community. Judging from the feedback, last year’s October conference (our 11th!) once again successfully hit the mark. More than 700 people from the U.S. and other countries traveled to San Diego looking for more answers, deeper understanding, a stronger sense of community, clarity on their medical options before them, and a vision of the future of hereditary cancer research.

photo of opening session

Over 700 attendees joined us in San Diego

We greatly appreciate all of our generous sponsors who helped us make this high-quality program possible. Donations to our conference scholarship fund provided financial support for 114 conference attendees. With funding from Susan G. Komen, we offered a conference first: a day of sessions in Spanish. In another first, we organized a day of sessions designed for the 81 FORCE volunteers who attended.

Welcome Reception and Opening Session

welcome reception

San Diego weather was perfect for an outdoor welcome reception

Southern California provided a beautiful, warm backdrop for our outdoor welcome reception. It was a perfect start to the next 2 days, which were an energizing mix of connection, education and rejuvenation.

Speaking on behalf of City of Hope, our Lead Academic Sponsor, Victoria Seewaldt, MD welcomed attendees—with a show of hands, two-thirds indicated that they were attending their first Joining Forces conference. Karen Hurley, PhD shared advice for getting the most out of the conference experience. Executive Director Sue Friedman marked FORCE’s 20-year anniversary with a retrospective of the organization’s accomplishments, while CEO Barbara Pfeiffer painted a vision of the future.

opening session, first time attendees

2/3 of attendees indicated they were first-timers

Breakout Sessions

Seventy-six faculty speakers presented 51 sessions on a wide scope of topics, providing a soup-to-nuts tutorial on issues associated with hereditary cancers. Slides and write-ups from select sessions are available here and post-conference reviews are available for these sessions:

Friday After-Hours

Thanks to the generous support from the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery, musician/composer Eva Moon performed The Mutant Diaries, her one-hour, one-woman comedy and musical show about her BRCA status and related decisions.

More people attended our “Show & Tell” post-mastectomy session than ever before; they were lined up to get in. Over 300 people visited our sponsors’ rooms—Allergan, Cassileth Plastic Surgery and Bedford Breast Center, the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery, and Constance Chen, MD—chatting directly with breast and plastic surgeons. In the women only section attendees discussed (and viewed) real-life post-mastectomy results—with and without reconstruction of women who had undergone these surgeries.

Show & Tell sponsor room

Saturday Highlights

The morning’s “Ask the Experts” breakfast gave attendees the opportunity to question faculty members one-on-one.In the plenary session that followed, three research experts addressed “What’s New in Hereditary Cancer?” Vicky Seewaldt, MD presented exciting research on breast cancer screening and prevention and shared new breast imaging technology being studied. She presented research on exercise, diabetes and breast cancer risk, and also emphasized the need for more research on breast self-exam (BSE) while challenging findings and limitations of prior research studies that showed no benefit from BSE. Susan Domchek, MD presented the latest in prevention and treatment of hereditary cancer, including PARP inhibitors and immunotherapy. We were honored to have

Sandy Cohen presents award to Jessie and Dave Bushman

Sandy Cohen presents award to Jessie and Dave Bushman

renowned genetics researcher (and the discoverer of BRCA1), Mary-Claire King, PhD, who was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers befitting a rock star. She discussed her work to identify people affected by inherited mutations—research that has defined her career.

We were all moved by the presentation of our Spirit of Empowerment Award to four deserving individuals and their acceptance talks. Sandy Cohen, FORCE Vice President of Volunteer Programs presented FORCE volunteers Dave (who is BRCA1-positive) and Jessie (a breast cancer survivor) Bushman with the Individual Commitment Award. Dave shared his “Hereditary Cancer Wishlist”:

May your genetic test be negative.
If your genetic test is positive, may you never get cancer.
If you do get cancer, may it be diagnosed very early.
If you have cancer, may your surgery go smoothly and uneventfully and may your treatment be short and recoverable.
May every survivor and previvor have a strong support group of family and friends.
And may there come a time when cancer is only a zodiac sign.

Susan Domchek, MD receives her award

Susan Domchek, MD receives her award

Dr. Susan Domchek was awarded for her extensive contributions to hereditary cancer treatment, including clinical
trials that led to FDA approvals for PARP inhibitors.

Karen Kramer, FORCE Senior Vice President of Marketing echoed the thoughts of everyone present when she introduced Dr.

Photo of Mary-Claire King, PhD receiving her award.

Mary-Claire King, PhD receives her award

King. “Dr. King, thank you for your perseverance and your personal dedication to our community.  You have created a silver lining for many of us; not just for us individually, but for each member of our families as well.  The information we have because of you has empowered and protected us and saved the lives of so many.” 

Accepting her award, Dr. King spotlighted FORCE’s role in hereditary cancer research, saying, “PARP inhibitor therapy, I think it’s fair to say, very likely would not be part of our armamentarium now had it not been for FORCE.”

Conference Closing

All too soon, Dr. Hurley closed the conference with calming and centering imagery:

“Let yourself picture a snow globe, full of clear liquid: a miniature landscape scene and white flakes scattered at the bottom.  We’ve just been through two intense days of information, research findings, sharing stories and connecting, like vigorous shakes to the snow globe in your mind. Imagine all of that information—all of those slides, stories and heartfelt moments—swirling like snowflakes. Joining the swirl are your own memories: hearing your results, getting a diagnosis, being there for family, maybe someone you’ve lost, and all of those memories, information, research and feelings swirl together. See the white snowflakes whirling around and around. As the snowflakes settle, allow the information to settle in your mind. You don’t have to strain or figure it out, just allow the swirl of thoughts and feelings to settle at their own pace. Your mind settles, the landscape becomes clearer bit by bit, and in that moment of clarity you know the next right thing to do.”

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