Mother and Child
I just got off the phone with a young woman I met earlier this year who is battling Stage IV melanoma. During the call she told me, “I have a 2 year old and I worry that I won’t live long enough for my child to remember me.”
Just a few days ago the airwaves were filled with news about breakthroughs in melanoma. The annual global meeting of oncologists—ASCO—was held in Chicago and attendees were all saying, “This is the year for melanoma.”
In many ways that is true. We sat in a room filled with thousands of doctors and heard two separate presentations about drugs that extend the life of melanoma patients. In smaller settings over the space of a long weekend, dozens of other talks were given that described progress: effectiveness against metastases to the brain, formulations that are better tolerated, novel approaches that are showing promise. Many of these presentations—in fact, most—were given by people within the MRF “family.” They have received grant funding or are on our Scientific Advisory Committee.
Just before ASCO, in what was almost like a family reunion, MRF assembled more than 40 top researchers for a half-day meeting to work on next steps for the Melanoma Research Foundation Breakthrough Consortium. This Consortium links a dozen institutions and ensures that the best and brightest minds are working collaboratively to conduct and enhance clinical trials using combinations of drugs. Everyone knows this is the only approach that will truly transform care for melanoma patients, yet studying combinations seems slow and difficult. These doctors and scientists laid out a plan for accelerating that process, for helping this critical aspect of clinical advancement happen more quickly. As you can imagine, that four hour session was exciting to say the least.
But what about that young mother? She has already tried one of the drugs mentioned in the large session mentioned above, but had to stop because of side effects. And she doesn’t have the mutation that you need to have in order to qualify for the other drug that was discussed. So what are her options? What hope do we have to offer her?
For all the good news coming out of ASCO this year, we have much more to do. We will rejoice over the victories and the lives that are saved and changed because of the progress being made. But we must never mistake incremental progress with true transformational change. We must never be satisfied with baby steps when giant steps are needed. ASCO this year was a moment of celebration, but now it is back to the task at hand—more research, more education, more awareness—until, one day, the job is done. When we declare melanoma a thing of the past, we will close up shop and happily go home.