The Woodward Conference Centre felt like the foyer of one of Melbourne’s concert venues on Tuesday evening. But it wasn’t War Horse or the latest MTC play creating the buzz, it was the first-ever VCCC speed networking event between cancer consumers, clinicians, researchers, allied health and nursing professionals hosted by VCCC and the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
The World Cancer Day Campaign...I Am and I Will... prompted people to make a commitment.
Consumer co-design results in balanced communication
On the evening of World Cancer Day, people of all ages and backgrounds brought their energy and enthusiasm to the shared event, designed to break down barriers, create introductions and uncover what matters most from a range of perspectives.
The evening was co-designed by consumer Melissa Sheldon on behalf of the VCCC and was hosted by Melissa, who has lived with a melanoma diagnosis for 11 years, and Dr Kristi Milley, National Manager of the Primary Care Collaborative Cancer Clinical Trials Group (PC4) who says a big part of her job is connecting researchers and consumers. Both were unaware they had already been working on a clinical trials project together, until they were introduced to collaborate on the event.
Professor Sean Grimmond, Bertalli Chair in Cancer Medicine and Director of the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research kicked-off the evening talking about where cancer medicine is heading and explained some of the opportunities in personalised medicine. “Precision oncology is an idea where samples are collected for genome sequencing; enabling us to more accurately decide on drugs and treatments. Today’s technology means this can take a couple of people hours, instead of 50 people many months. The information assists us to pick the best approaches to help patients; potentially giving them an on-ramp to a clinical trial," says Professor Grimmond.
Consumer involvement vital to progressing research
“Clearly it won’t work unless people consent to be involved. We are entering an era of ‘big data’ where all information is vital. We can take what we know from yesterday and today to help inform tomorrow. Cancer registries give us a playbook to make decisions for patients. We need closer partnerships with community members to remind us to take off our white coats and focus on what’s relevant.”
The agenda for the speed networking event was simply to make a connection and have a conversation. A 4-minute time limit challenged participants to get to the point before a bell was rung and those on the medical side took a step to the right and began their next conversation. Doctor and patient hierarchies ceased to exist, and participants were free to share what they felt they needed more of from each other.
Bruce is a melanoma patient, nine years in remission whose sister had ovarian cancer. Before she passed away, said Bruce, she made it clear that my job was to use my experiences to help others. Bruce is a consumer representative with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and true to his word, is active in forums to progress better outcomes for patients. One of the areas he sees opportunity is to educate doctors to recognise how their relationships with patients can impact on improved diagnoses and overall care.
Anna works in the cancer field and said, “I had amazing conversations and I learnt something from everyone I spoke to.”
Max was blown away by the diversity of people he spoke to. “Hayley is a lawyer helping people with cancer, George told me about new treatments. There is such passion among the researchers. We need that passion for you to fix us up one way or the other.”
Researchers were also united in their appreciation for the event.
“Sometimes you can get lost in your research and it really helps to see the bigger picture and gain some perspective.”
Consumer engagement is a priority for the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. Community members with an interest in cancer prevention, detection and treatment are encouraged to subscribe to receive newsletters to keep up-to-date with the latest news, events and opportunities.