A month-long adventure, all in the name of cancer

TJ with his grade school friends Jim and Danielle at the Leveraged Financial Fights Melanoma fundraiser at Rockefeller Center.

This spring has given me chance after chance to become much more ingrained in the melanoma community. The GSK Melanoma Blogger Symposium was just one stop in a month-long adventure that has taken me to six different states to talk about, learn about, write about, and mingle with those in the melanoma, cancer, and research communities.

Let's get you caught up to speed on where I've been and where I'm headed next, shall we?

After my 20th infusion two weeks ago, I got to “cover” something for the first time – so far my writings have really just been life experiences (with some quasi-journalistic endeavors thrown in there).  On May 14th, the DIA (a nonprofit trade association dedicated to medical product development) hosted a two-day Latin American Regulatory Conference meeting in Miami. Since I will be speaking at their annual meeting in a month, it was a nice chance to get acquainted with the organization and dip my toe into media coverage at the same time.

Except I was a little lost when the first presentation, “Multi-Regional Clinical Trials: Ecuadorian Perspective” began in Spanish. The Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health’s head of Pharmacotherapy was apparently pretty funny, as everyone in the room that didn’t have a Philly.com blog was laughing. I did follow along with the last slide – “Gracias.” (Nine years in South Florida has really given me a strong multi-cultural understanding, as you can tell.)

So my first foray into covering an “event” was pretty much a dud. I learned what “biosimilars” were (basically, the copying of drugs by outside companies once the patent expires – think generics but more complex and made from living cells, not chemical synthesis) and they are becoming a bigger part of the Latin American drug manufacturing. There are medical and pharmaceutical innovations happening outside the 50 States, and there are different, and difficult, hurdles pharmaceuticals must clear to come to market worldwide. It is fascinating to think about the global scale of healthcare, and how lucky I am to be at the very pinnacle of it. 

Then, I had another Melanoma Research Alliance event in Manhattan – this time, the Leveraged Financial Fights Melanoma fundraiser at Rockefeller Center. In between this collection of power suits and financial minds, there were patients like me invited by the MRA. We somehow carved out our own little group amidst the Wall Street networking taking place around us.  I would say it was like buddies swapping war stories, but I don’t want to insult our military a la Gwyneth Paltrow, so we’ll call it reliving freshman football tales (which still drives one friend’s wife slightly insane).

Rusty, a fellow Stage IV Melanoma and PD-1 trial comrade, told me he got worried after reading my vitiligo post that PD-1 hasn’t given HIM the same reaction; the 94% shrinkage his scans show is a pretty good indication the medication was working (and offered to trade my 70% and patchwork skin straight up for his 94%!). 

While many of the guests at the fundraiser were there to hear from Mike Milken or Leon Black, for a few of us, it’s great to meet others who are on different legs of this journey. Our presence also reminds the crowd that this isn’t just some random cocktail hour they put a few hours and hundreds of dollars into. I met quite a few people who inquired about where I worked (assuming I was there for business), and got some pretty good reactions to, “I’m the reason you are here donating money.” Plus, there were a half-dozen friends who attended the event (most in the finance industry) so having those worlds collide was neat.

Today is my next stop on the list at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago. This conference is the place many researchers publish their findings from the last year. I have already taken a look at a handful of abstracts that will be presented, and can tell you for certain I am in waaaaay over my head here. That C+ in Mr. Lipinsky’s freshman Biology class is a bit regrettable 25 years later.  Hopefully I can shed some light on what is going on in the cancer world, and find a few good stories in between the non-stop sessions and presentations that are planned.

Then, A Prom To Remember comes to Boston for the first time on Friday, June 6th. Since two high school friends are running it, I am making my way up there before heading back to Jersey for the Susan Fazio Golf Tournament.  Quite a bit of my free time has been dedicated to expanding the Prom, and I am looking forward to seeing success in Boston help bring the Prom to even more locations (sit tight, Philadelphia, the Prom is coming here soon).

My adventures conclude with DIA and BIO conferences in San Diego at the end of June – a 10-day stretch that will make the Latin American conference seem like child’s play. At least if I am going to slightly overexert myself, it is all in the name of cancer.

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »