The 62nd American Society of Hematology annual meetings have ended but the experience is one that I will cherish for years to come. I was not sure what to expect from the virtual platform, but I was not disappointed in the end. The overall experience was more than I could have imagined.
I enjoyed having the ability to be able to replay the live oral abstract presentations. If there was a presentation slide that I missed or if something was unclear to me, I had the ability to go back and listen to the recorded session later to get more details. The virtual platform enabled me to be able to view more of the oral abstracts that otherwise time would not have allowed for. I also had the ability to see and listen to many of the 500 plus poster abstracts presented on myeloma at my leisure. This is a lot more than I would have been able to view in the in-person setting.
Under normal conditions during an in-person meeting, there are very active conversations held in the hallways in between sessions. I was happy to be able to take part in some of the virtual hallway conversations. This year the Hallway Conversations came through discussion boards that stimulated the same type of dialogue and exchanges just in a virtual setting. I was able to participate in some of the preset topics and had the ability to add my own topic for discussion. This was good for networking with other ASH attendees.
Although we were not able to have the personal interaction between the SGL ASH team as usual, I found our daily check-in meetings to be very valuable. We shared our take-aways from the abstracts that were presented throughout the day. I learned a lot just listening to my fellow team members. I even got to meet the fur babies of my team members.
Another aspect of virtual ASH that I enjoyed was the Virtual Wellness Studio. Each day I could take advantage of the live yoga and Thai chi sessions. The sessions would take place around the clock for those attendees in other time zones.
Of course, the exhibitor booths were a little different at this year’s meetings. As in years past, I was not able to visit all the booths but the ones I scrolled through virtually provided many great insights on the resources that their company offered. Being virtual meant no gathering bags of goodies to take back to my support group members.
I leave the ASH virtual meetings with more hope than in years past for many reasons. One of which is that in addition to BCMA, other surface antigens are being studied. There was also mention of tri-specifics being under investigation. This means that as clonal evolution takes place and relapse occurs, we will have more of a variety of tools in our toolbox to fight with.
I also find great hope in seeing how the treatment paradigms have shifted. Not only for myeloma, but for smoldering myeloma as well. Doctors are moving away from the watch and wait approach and are actively treating smoldering myeloma in many cases, particularly high risk disease. Smoldering patients now have several clinical trials that they may be eligible to participate in. Most of the experts agree that the very best treatments should be used early on in initial treatment and in the first relapse, second relapse and beyond. I find the greatest hope in all the collaboration between the scientist, doctors, and pharmaceutical partners that are working to make myeloma a curable cancer.
Whether in person or virtually, the opportunity to attend an ASH meeting is an invaluable learning experience and I am thankful to be able to have been a part of it.
Be sure to check out the blogs of the entire patient team https://www.myeloma.org/imf-ash-2020
—Valarie Traynham, Aurora, IL Multiple Myeloma Networking Group