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The Front Line


The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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A Week in the Life of the Group Chair

June 2, 2017 - I am often asked how I actually earn my keep here at SWOG. Every day, week in and out, I encounter issues, people, and projects of every possible stripe. New challenges and opportunities continuously pop up. SWOG administration, operations, and statistics and data management span three offices in three states and together we serve nearly 12,000 members worldwide. I learned soon after my election that no two weeks are alike. Thatís actually much of what I love about leading the group Ė the variety!

My weekly work breaks down roughly into these categories:

Working with Leadership: The triage team Ė made up primarily of group leadership and SWOG executive officers Ė holds a call each Monday morning to review and vote on new clinical trial concepts. The triage call is how I officially start every week, though I try to crank out a couple of quiet hours of catch-up and planning work beforehand. Monday is also a good day to meet with our grants staff. Other scheduled calls occur early in the week, including a periodic teleconference with leadership of our Lung-MAP precision medicine trial. Tuesdays include planned meetings or calls with communications and stats, and every Wednesday, a core group of SWOG staff meets to tackle operations issues. Every other Friday morning, the executive advisory team discusses policy and program changes, and every other month, committee chairs do the same. These conference calls are so helpful in shaping our strategic direction as a research group. In addition, on a near-daily basis, Iím on the phone or trading emails with some combination of SWOG Chief of Administration Nathan Eriksen, SWOG Director of Operations Dana Sparks, as well as Statistics and Data Management Center Director Dr. Mike LeBlanc, Deputy Chair Dr. Anne Schott, and Vice Chairs Drs. Lee Ellis and Dawn Hershman. Not to mention talks with SWOG Senior Advisors David Gandara and Frank Meyskens.

Managing Challenges and Planning Strategy: While I tackle ongoing issues surrounding our clinical trials on those scheduled calls, there are always new challenges and opportunities cropping up. These spontaneous decisions may include The Hope Foundation business, questions on authorship on a SWOG publication, an unforeseen funding shortage, or National Cancer Institute grant reporting deadlines. These issues often come in electronically; I get about 300 new emails a day! Iím never without a computer or cell phone, so you can always find me tapping out, or talking through, decisions here at our Portland office. Additionally, a huge amount of non-formally scheduled time is spent planning the next five years for the group Ė scientific direction, etc.

Treating Patients: While patient care is a part of almost every day, Iíve reserved Thursdays for clinic time to see current patients or meet new ones. My clinic is located in the new Center for Health and Healing at Oregon Health & Science University, with sweeping views of Portlandís waterfront. My practice is made up of end-of-life care, primarily patients who are interested in Oregonís physician aid-in-dying law. My patients are mostly terminally ill and suffer from a loss of dignity and good quality of life. So, on a daily basis, I try to help with end-of-life and palliative care issues. Doing this work is, as you can imagine, an honor and privilege.

Representing SWOG: Travel is a staple of my work. I attend major cancer research conferences, such as ASCO and ESMO, to represent SWOG, support our group, and learn the latest on cancer research right alongside other conference attendees. As a member of the ASCO board of directors, I am often in Washington, DC and other venues attending meetings and events that are requirements of that service. I also travel to Seattle each fall to take part in the Young Investigators Training Course supported by Hope, support our international education conferences, and, of course, attend all SWOG group meetings Ė which are definitely my most intense travel meetings. Besides leading Plenary 2 and the board of governors and committee chairsí meetings, our semi-annuals give me the chance to give personnel reviews, take part in our Leadership Academy training, and in general catch up with whatís going on in our committees.

As you read this, I will be in Chicago at the ASCO annual meeting, along with dozens of SWOG members. Look for my SWOG-focused recap next week. Which reminds me of one last weekly duty Ė writing this Front Line blog for you. One of my favorite things to do!

For a list of SWOG ASCO 2017 abstracts, visit our website.

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