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The Front Line


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

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On The Road for (Mostly) SWOG

September 8, 2017 - I get hassled a fair bit by some of SWOG’s leaders for the frequency of the “out of office” messages that arise from my email box. And the observation is, well, mostly accurate. I am out of the office a lot, especially in the fall each year. This month, September, is my busiest ever, as the summer door slams shut and a cavalcade of conferences and annual events begins.

My itinerary recently:

    NCORP Annual Meeting – Washington, DC – August 27-29

    European Society for Medical Oncology – Madrid, Spain – September 8-12

    NCTN Leadership Retreat – Chicago, IL – September 16-18

    SWOG Latin America Initiative Training and Conferences – Uruguay and Chile – September 19-22

    SWOG Young Investigator Training Course – Seattle, WA – September 25

    ASCO Advocacy Summit – Washington, DC – September 26-29

Crazy, right? But it’s a good kind of crazy. The overwhelming majority of my professional travel touches SWOG, and I do believe it brings real benefits to our group.

Let’s break that down.

I like to think it was beneficial to have a group chair present at the NCORP meeting. Our NCORP members are critical to the success of SWOG, driving our accrual and member growth, and offering strong leadership, particularly in our prevention and survivorship trials. The NCI estimates that about 85 percent of Americans receive a cancer diagnosis and at least one round of treatment at community hospitals. Listening to the opportunities and challenges for clinical trial professionals in those settings is critical to understanding how to run relevant cancer trials and provide excellent care.

The ESMO meeting offers a different perspective, as well as an opportunity to learn about new science and network. I get to strengthen relationships, and forge new ones, at ESMO, just as I do at ASCO annual meetings. At least one trial concept going forward in SWOG arose from a previous meeting in the ESMO members’ lounge.

Sometimes travel allows me to speak on SWOG’s behalf at broad gatherings. That’s certainly true of the National Clinical Trials Network retreat coming up in Chicago. For at least the first time since the cooperative groups were merged and the NCTN was formed, group chairs and select scientific leadership are coming together to talk about how we can better work together in running more impactful, effective, and efficient trials, how we can design better studies in the age of precision medicine, and how we can attract and retain top young talent. I will hopefully present SWOG’s vision, explain our strategic direction, and advocate for all our interests and ideas. ASCO’s annual Advocacy Summit falls into this category, too, because it helps me to make a case for cancer research funding. That funding is our lifeblood, and I want to make the strongest argument for it I can.

I sometimes like to travel simply to demonstrate to the team that what they do is important, and that leadership truly appreciates all levels of contribution. This is certainly the case with my presentations at events like the Young Investigators Training Course and the SWOG Latin America Initiative training and education sessions. Could someone else present “my” material? Of course. But SWOG’s guiding principles include inclusion and supporting young investigators, and showing up for YIC is one of the most important events on my calendar. Similarly, our international partners, (as well as our future principal investigators), matter.

So, be kind when you get an “out of office” message. True, I may be climbing mountains sometimes, but even those ventures sometimes benefit SWOG. And, most of the time, I’m still punching the clock.

SWOG's new website launches in November, and you'll need to be sure you have proper credentials to log-in. Check for details.

Abstracts are coming due for the ASCO GI Cancers Symposium. Please send yours to SWOG Publications Manager Pat Arlauskas for processing no later than Sept. 13.

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