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Advances in cancer will only happen through true collaboration

By Nancy G. Brinker and Eric T. Rosenthal, contributors | June 20, 2016 | The Hill | See Original Here


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After some three decades attending the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting — the world’s largest gathering of cancer professionals — we’ve seen many positive advances in cancer research, treatment, prevention, awareness and attitudes toward the disease, as well as a lot of lip service related to collaboration.

ASCO is the premiere venue for breaking news about clinical advances in oncology and medical education, but also serves as a vast networking opportunity for members of the larger cancer community who may not interact personally with one another during the rest of the year.

It can be an ideal place for fostering collaboration, as echoed by the meeting’s theme, “Collective Wisdom,” Vice President Biden’s calls for collaborative efforts in his cancer “moonshot initiative,” and team science ventures inspired through such efforts as the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Stand Up To Cancer initiative.

This year’s ASCO in Chicago was a little different for both of us, because for the first time we were attending with a joint, collaborative identity transcending the usual individual roles we had played in the past: Brinker, as the patient advocate, cancer survivor and founder of Susan G. Komen, the breast cancer charity she founded in 1982 in memory of her sister, to whom she famously promised to find a cure for breast cancer; and Rosenthal, as an independent journalist covering issues, controversies and trends in oncology for MedPage Today this year and other media outlets in the past.

In fact, our paths had crossed often over many years at ASCO as well as at other cancer-related meetings and events, but for the first time, at last year’s ASCO meeting, we realized how very much we had in common despite our varying perspectives and places in the cancer community, and how that combined and often synergistic view could provide interesting and provocative observations and commentary that neither of us could create alone.

Our formal debut as op-ed co-authors appeared in The Hill in January, and since then, we’ve been fortunate to have had a number of contributions appear together or under individual bylines, depending on the issue. We will also be collaborating on other projects.

Sometimes we may start out seeing things differently, but we often end up coming to the same conclusion through respectful discourse that helps define our common voice.

But the irony that became even more apparent at this scientific and educational conference, was that our joint articles — which received much praise from many in the oncology community who we were pleasantly surprised to learn were readers of The Hill — also helped raise the real and sometimes very harsh specter of cancer politics.

The reality is that politics plays a role in all aspects of life including the cancer community. However, there are always at least two sides to a story, and to ensure that the best possible policies are instituted, there must be healthy and open debate taking place with multiple perspectives, real transparency and total disclosure. While many may not like to hear some of the arguments, they still must be made.

We should encourage honest discourse and true transparency, and that is why we are committed to our collaboration. While we have traversed the oncology landscape from different vantage points, our mission has always been the same: to search for truth and to promote synergistic collaborations that achieve significant results in cancer research and all things.

Life has taught us both that no one has a monopoly of good ideas, and that one and one can often amount to a sum greater than two.

Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, was previously a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.’s World Health Organization; U.S. chief of protocol; and U.S. ambassador to Hungary. She is now continuing her work in media and consulting. Rosenthal is an independent journalist who covers issues, controversies and trends in oncology as special correspondent for MedPage Today. He is the founder of the National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Networ, and helped organize a number of national medicine-and-the-media conferences. The opinions expressed belong solely to the authors.