Next month I will be attending the 9th World Congress of Melanoma in Brisbane, Australia, as the representative of Canadian patient advocacy group Save Your Skin Foundation. This four-day congress serves as the meeting of world leaders in the field of skin cancer research, prevention, and treatment. I will be attending sessions covering all of the latest news and topics in melanoma and other skin cancers, and I will bring this knowledge back to Canadian patients.
In conjunction with the congress, I have the honour of sitting on a working group in the Global Coalition for Melanoma Patient Advocacy, in which we will continue the work spearheaded by Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). I have followed MRF since my own diagnosis, and celebrated their work from my corner so far away; namely, this year in May was the first annual World Melanoma Day.
My itinerary for the week is pretty much booked. In addition to the main plenary sessions discussing melanoma, I have chosen sessions which speak to my personal experience and interests, as well as those of Save Your Skin, as we want more detail in the following areas:
- Advances in Merkel Cell Carcinoma (a rare but very serious form of cancer)
- Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas, Actinic Keratosis, and if I can, Uveal Melanoma (a.k.a Ocular Melanoma)
- Surgical management of Stage III melanoma (directly relates to my scars)
- Immuno-Oncology in melanoma
- and one that I REALLY want to know about so I can put to rest the controversy - Sunscreen: Bioavailability and Toxicity (this topic was always on my mind in my tree-hugger days, and it is still a common question asked to SYSF)
My brain is going to be SO full! I must admit, in the almost-year that I have been working for Save Your Skin, I have allowed myself to be intimidated at times, by the science and politics behind what the Foundation does, but as I buckle down and study it piece by piece, I realize I know far more than I thought. My colleagues have been patiently teaching me, and I have been soaking up the information but now I find myself actually being able to apply the information to my own experience with melanoma, and it makes sense.
I was there (still am, of course, my 6-month CT scans are Monday in fact) - I know what they're talking about, I have done my time at Sunnybrook and analyzed every word my medical team has told me over the years. Now I get to learn from the best, about people just like me, and I understand. It is science - and I'm okay with that - thanks Kathy! ;-)
Aside from the conference, I am taking a day to go hug a koala. IN AUSTRALIA!!!!! :-) :-) :-) #spoiledgirl #gonnawearlongsleeves
22 days remain in my countdown to Australia, and I am reflecting on how this has all happened. Three years ago at this time I was recovering from extensive surgery, my family and friends were looking after me, I was heading into my third systemic immunotherapy treatment, and I was in a psychological tailspin. I had no idea whether or not I would survive to see any semblance of the future I had hoped I would have, and fear overtook most of my days.
Step by step I walked out of that place, I worked to overcome those challenges, I leaned on the supportive people in my life, and I got back out there. And I talked about it.... blah blah blah... you already know, I talked. Blogs, youTube, radio, TV, magazines, speaking appearances, more blogs: it gave me something constructive to do with my cancer experience. When I realized that there were others like myself, others navigating an advanced melanoma diagnosis with the same mysterious dark cloud over their future, I wanted to share. I wanted to reach out and help them know they were not alone, and I wanted them to tell me it would be okay too. Which they did. And still do.
Now I have the honour of being able to help others through their skin cancer journey on a grand scale. I will go to Australia, attend the World Congress of Melanoma, fill my brain with all the latest news from the world leaders in this field, and bring it back to Canada in the form of reports from Save Your Skin Foundation. Not bad for a humble little patient like me... as if I'm not already grateful enough just to be alive.
Thank you Save Your Skin Foundation, for bringing out the best in me, and for encouraging me, now that I live permanently outside my old comfort zone. Thank you for posting my first guest blog, it all started here: