The ASCO annual meeting began in 1964 as a group of 51 physicians finalizing the bylaws of the organization—and has since turned into a much-anticipated global event that brings together 35,000 to 40,000 people across all areas of oncology.
“Big trees begin as tiny acorns,” said John Laszlo, an early childhood leukemia researcher, professor emeritus at Duke University Medical Center, and a retired national vice president for research at the American Cancer Society.
Laszlo attended one of the first ASCO annual meetings in the 1960s. The first scientific meeting was in 1965, and according to ASCO Connection, that gathering included a 1.5 hour-long program with three presentations on leukemia and multiple myeloma.
“No one predicted that a small group of oncologists could spark a movement the size of the current membership of ASCO,” Laszlo said.
The Cancer History Project asked people who have played a role in oncology—fellows, cancer center directors, lawyers, pharmaceutical executives, CEOs, past ASCO presidents, and one journalist—to share their memories from their first ever annual meeting experience.
- When was your first ASCO?
- What was a highlight from your first ASCO?
- Most memorable ASCO moment?
- Most star-struck moment?
- How has it changed?
Like Laszlo, attendees of these early meetings remarked on how large the annual meeting has become.
Jerry Yates, emeritus professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer, attended his first ASCO annual meeting in the early 1970s.
“There were 200-300 at the meeting,” he said. “The meeting now is 35,000+ and is too large.”
Carol Fabian, director of the Breast Cancer Prevention and Survivorship Research Center, Medical Oncology Mark and Bette Morris Family Professorship in Cancer Prevention of the Mark and Bette Morris Foundation, and University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, attended her first meeting in 1976 or 1977.
“The clinical giants of the day made a habit of repeatedly standing up and questioning or sparring over each other’s presented research,” she said.
“I was a fellow at the time and asked my boss why he would ask a question to which I was fairly certain he already knew the answer,” she said. “He replied, ‘the object of asking a question at an ASCO was not to learn something. The object of asking a question at ASCO is to be noticed.’ Perhaps some things do not change much in 45 years.”
Memorable moments for conferencegoers range from hypoglycemic episodes the night before a presentation to sightings of Sir Elton John, Al Pacino, Jay Leno, President Bill Clinton—and each other.
“I was education chair the year Kathy Miller headed up the program committee,” said Charles Blanke, chair, SWOG Cancer Research Network; professor of medicine, Knight Cancer Institute and OHSU School of Medicine. “I am diabetic, and had a hypoglycemic episode in the middle of the night. I texted her (she was right next door) but Dr. Miller didn’t respond.
“When I asked her about it the next day, she said she didn’t see the text for about two hours after I sent it, and by that point I was either deceased or I had recovered. She is so practical!”
Brushes with fame figure in many stories. ASCO Chief Medical Officer Julie Gralow received a VIP pass to attend a benefit concert for the ASCO Foundation (now Conquer Cancer)—and saw Elton John in concert.
“Former ASCO president Larry Norton accompanied him on a song or two on a homemade electric mandolin (or maybe it was a zither),” she said. “Not sure if I was more star-struck by Sir Elton or Dr. Norton!”
At the 1995 annual meeting in Los Angeles, Gralow saw Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
“All of a sudden, Al Pacino ran right by me in a shoot-out, and there was Robert De Niro across the street,” she said. “They were filming the movie ‘Heat.’ Only in LA.”
Roy Herbst, deputy director for clinical affairs at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, attended a party entertained by Jay Leno at his first meeting in 1995.
“Dr. [Robert] Mayer’s assistant, Kim Bremner, snagged me a ticket to a premier ASCO party and I boarded a bus to an LA theater that year to be entertained with comedy by Jay Leno,” he said. “Following his performance, I quickly followed the crowd to another bus and found myself at the Four Seasons for a lavish after-party, where the first of many fun photos was taken with me with Jay Leno and Andre Agassi. I’ve never seen the photo but remember the moment clearly!”
ASCO CEO Cliff Hudis, who started attending the annual meeting in 1989, said his greatest memory is from the 1998 annual meeting in San Diego.
“As I checked in, candidate Bill Clinton caused a small ripple of excitement by strolling through the lobby during a campaign stop in San Diego,” Hudis said. “Maybe I saw him out of the corner of my eye, maybe not.”
Lavish parties of days gone by
Several conferencegoers recalled the extravagance of the ASCOs of yore, when it was legal for pharmaceutical companies to court oncologists with luxury, liquor, and largesse.
“Those were the days of lavish exhibits at the ASCO part of the meeting where big pharma held impressive receptions and gave attendees gifts,” said Wafik El-Deiry, director of the Legorreta Cancer Center at Brown University, attending physician, hematology/oncology, Lifespan Cancer Institute, associate dean of oncologic sciences, at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Mace Rothenberg, former professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and former chief medical officer at Pfizer, said companies would out-luxury one another when he began attending in 1987.
“This meeting occurred during a period of industry extravagance. Companies competed with one another for the prestige of having the largest exhibit in the best location at ASCO,” he said. “They tried to attract ‘A-list’ practitioners and researchers to lavish dinners, receptions, and parties. As cash-poor ‘D-list’ fellows, my roommate, Jeff Weber, and I did our best to finagle our way into as many of these as we could with a goal of never having to pay for a dinner at ASCO ourselves.”
Alan Bennett, a lawyer and retired partner at Ropes & Gray, attended the 1989 ASCO annual meeting on behalf of a client.
“All the large companies held events that were (a) extravagant and (b) an enormous amount of fun,” he said. “The first one I attended involved walking into a cavernous hotel ballroom over a scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“When I descended from the bridge into the ballroom, one of the leading Motown groups—I think it was the Four Tops—was entertaining the guests.”
Both Bennett and Paul Goldberg, editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter, and co-editor of the Cancer History Project, recall pharmaceutical company executives who paid for the cabs of oncologists.
“At the ASCO president’s reception, BMS guys stood by the curb, holding wads of cash, peeling off $10 at a time, handing the money to taxi drivers ferrying the guests,” Goldberg said. “At the reception, there was a well-stocked bar, a table with caviar, a table with oysters, and many other less noteworthy tables.”
The carnival atmosphere was toned down after the 2003 guidance by the HHS Office of Inspector General.
“I still remember the chair I was sitting in”
Beyond the flash and the fun, most of the memorable moments have to do with science.
When Larry Norton, senior vice president within the Office of the President, medical director of Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, Norna S. Sarofim Chair in Clinical Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a past ASCO president (2001-2002), attended his first meeting in the 1970s, he had left behind the bedside of a young man who was dying of widely metastatic testicular cancer.
“Another young physician, Larry Einhorn, was presenting his experience with adding cisplatin to the more conventional drugs for my patient’s disease, and the results were nothing short of mind-blowing,” Norton said. “His presentation hit me like a lightning bolt, so much so that I still remember the chair I was sitting in.
“I left the meeting early to try the new drug on my patient, who had a spectacular response. The wonder of it all, the magic that a new drug could create, thrills me to this day.”
The wonder of experiencing all the science—and oncology allstars—in one place is riveting.
“I was like a kid in a candy shop,” said Herbst, recalling the presentations and discussant sections from his first ASCO in 1994.
Daniel Hayes, the Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research and professor of internal medicine at UM Rogel Cancer Center and past ASCO president (2016-2017), recalls volatile public debates that erupted among oncology legends.
“My most star-stuck moment was probably when Phil Schein and Charles Moertel got into a debate over adjuvant therapy for colorectal cancer,” he said.
“Both were in the audience while the presenter (I have no idea who that was or what the topic was) watched them give and take across the ballroom (ASCO meeting was pretty small in those days). Finally, Dr. Moertel said ‘Sorry, we didn’t mean to turn this into the Phil and Chuck show.’”
Tatiana Prowell, associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, attended her first meeting in 2005, “the year that N9831, NSABP B-31, and HERA were presented in a Special Session on HER2 positive breast cancer.”
As an early-career woman in oncology, it was memorable “to witness two remarkable women leaders in our field—Drs. Edith Perez and Martine Piccart—at the podium, changing everything we knew about breast cancer.”
Connecting with survivors and advocates has a profound personal and professional impact, Prowell said.
“A woman two seats down in my row was bald, wearing a headscarf, and as the audience erupted in cheers, she pumped her fist in the air and yelled out ‘YES!’ and bent over into her own lap crying,” she said.
“I don’t know if she was a participant in one of the studies or a patient with breast cancer, but to this day, when I think of her, it still brings me to tears. I carry her in my heart to every conference as a reminder that those Kaplan-Meier curves are a collection of human beings waiting impatiently for the results of everything we do, hoping for those moments, and making them possible for others.”
Mentors and lifelong friends
ASCO is the kind of place where, on a bus, you can meet a lifelong friend and research collaborator.
“At the 1989 ASCO meeting in San Francisco, I took a meeting bus from the convention center back to my hotel. I happened to sit next to Dr. Patrick Loehrer (at the time an associate professor at Indiana University). He introduced himself, and was very kind to me,” said Charles Thomas, chief of the Section of Radiation Oncology, professor of medicine at Geisel School of Medicine, associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
“He’s been helpful to me over the past few decades, and even allowed me to participate in various thymic neoplasm academic projects over the years,” he said. “I now get the opportunity to begin collaborations with his son, Dr. Andrew Loehrer, who is a surgical oncologist at Dartmouth.”
Don Dizon, director of the pelvic malignancies program at Lifespan Cancer Institute, head of community outreach and engagement at the Cancer Center at Brown University, and director of medical oncology at the Rhode Island Hospital, also made a career-defining connection on an ASCO bus.
“I was feeling bad for myself as we made our way to the center, and that’s when I struck up a conversation with Lisa Greaves, who now is Division Director of Educational meetings at ASCO,” he said. “She told me she had read some of my online writings and introduced me to ASCO Connection, and the opportunity to write a blog then. That was over 100 blogs ago!!”
Darya Kizub, a hematology/oncology fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said running into Gabriel Hortobagyi was a crucial mentorship moment for her.
“We have collaborated on the SWOG 0307 paper together, and he provided excellent comments about my first draft, yet I had never met him in person,” she said. “Despite running late to a meeting, he made the time to talk with me. As I learn to mentor others, I hope to be at least half as gracious and accessible as Dr. Hortobagyi.”
Ishwaria Subbiah, medical oncologist, palliative care and integrative medicine physician, director of faculty and academic wellness in the Office of the Chief Academic Officer at MD Anderson Cancer Center, didn’t have a geriatric oncology mentor before she attended her first annual meeting as an oncologist, in 2013.
“It was at ASCO 2013 when I first listened to Dr. Arti Hurria, Dr. Supriya Mohile, Dr. Tanya Wildes, Dr. William Dale, Dr. Efrat Dotan, and many such geriatric oncology visionaries and leaders, discuss ‘geriatricizing’ clinical trial design and optimizing person-centered care,” she said. “I found my calling, my tribe.”
Fumiko Ladd Chino, cancer researcher, assistant attending in radiation oncology, and co-lead of the Affordability Working Group at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said she had found her mentorship at a Health Services dinner organized by Aileen Chen.
“I remember sitting with her and Dr. Ryan Nipp, and chatting about my research and my goals,” she said. “I was so thrilled I was able to participate as a medical student and so happy that I had found my research niche and that it was filled by passionate, engaged, and kind people.”
Professional connections are an integral part of the annual meeting, said Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“Literally everyone I needed to speak to was right there at one meeting, from the clinical partners I wanted to collaborate with to develop new trials to the pharma partners needed to launch laboratory-based findings into the clinic,” she said.
“The highlight of my year”
Lori Pierce, professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs at the University of Michigan, and past ASCO president (2020-2021), was enthralled by her first meeting in 1989.
“I was in awe of the organization and the meeting! There was so much to learn and so many people whose research I had read to see,” she said. “I knew then that I wanted to be involved in ASCO whenever possible in the years to come. I never imagined that one day, I would be elected president of ASCO.”
Pierce’s presidential address was the most memorable ASCO moment for Thomas.
“Watching Dr. Pierce give the presidential address was a very big deal on so many levels,” he said.
After two years of virtual meetings, many expressed excitement about returning to McCormick Place and embarking on these in-person opportunities once again.
“The ASCO meeting is still a highlight of my year, but maybe more so now it is to see and connect with friends and colleagues. Seeing many of these folks for the first time in a few years will make the 2022 meeting as special as my first in 1989,” said Howard A. “Skip” Burris, III, chief medical officer, president of clinical operations at Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, associate at Tennessee Oncology, and a past ASCO president (2019-2020).
Even for those who have attended for decades, “the thrill of being at the meeting never goes away,” Blanke said.
Coral Olazagasti, assistant professor of medical oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, attended virtually in 2020 and 2021. This is her first in-person meeting.
“2020 was my year—and I was beyond excited, until the meeting was switched to virtual due to the global pandemic,” said Coral Olazagasti, assistant professor of medical oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who attended virtually in 2020 and 2021.
“Finally, this year, as a recent graduate and first year faculty, I will be attending the live meeting for the first time,” she said. “I look forward to meeting in person those oncologists I have admired via Twitter for a long time, and to connect with old colleagues and friends.”
John Laszlo, MD
Three of us from Duke attended one of the earliest meetings of ASCO. It was held in a big hotel in Toronto. Drs. Rundles, Silberman and I had not taken any part in the planning, because the organizers of the meeting were not working in the areas of hematologic malignancies so we did not know what to expect.
Our practice at Duke Medical Center prided itself in taking on all patients with malignant disease, but most of our referrals were patients with leukemias, lymphomas, myeloma, plus any and all patients with other so-called solid tumors. We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout at the meeting and joined ASCO from that point on.
At that time I was on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Hematology, a much older organization, and at those meetings I often complained that studies of patients with malignancies were barely included on the ASH programs. In fact, I warned that this new organization would embarrass ASH by encouraging relevant papers to be sent to them. Of course, that is exactly what happened when oncologists began to send their material to ASCO.
No one predicted that a small group of oncologists could spark a movement the size of the current membership of ASCO.John Laszlo
I relished the ASH meeting where they complained that all of the good articles were being presented at ASCO, and how are we going to bring them back? No one predicted that a small group of oncologists could spark a movement the size of the current membership of ASCO.
I resigned from the ASH board and spent the rest of my career attending both meetings whenever possible–and it has been a remarkable road.
Big trees begin as tiny acorns, and congratulations to the ASCO founders on a job well conceived and executed.
Jerome Yates, MD
My first ASCO meeting as a member was 50 years ago. There were 200-300 at the meeting. I presented the 7 & 3 regimen for treating AML and was petrified because all of the big names in cancer were there.
There was a major argument among the senior people about whether or not historical controls were a valid approach instead of randomization. The meeting now is 35,000+ and is too large.
Carol Fabian, MD
Not certain, but my first ASCO was probably in 1976 or 77.
The entire breast group session was in a relatively small room that probably held no more than 200 people, and the clinical giants of the day made a habit of repeatedly standing up and questioning or sparring over each other’s presented research. I was a fellow at the time, and I asked my boss why he would ask a question to which I was fairly certain he already knew the answer. He replied, “the object of asking a question at an ASCO is not to learn something. The object of asking a question at ASCO is to be noticed.” Perhaps some things do not change much in 45 years.
Most memorable ASCO moment? Being in the “green room,” wondering if I would survive the anxiety long enough to get through the presentation.
Most star-struck moment? Sitting by Dr. Bernie Fisher years ago when we were both presenting something at a large session. I was not a part of the NSABP, but had always been in awe of Dr. Fisher.
We had been told we should read our talk to stay on time as the slides advanced. I wanted to look in the camera instead of looking down to read text. So, I had the text typed in very large letters that I could easily see without looking down most of the time. Dr. Fisher thought that was just incredible and asked his wife, who was sitting beside him on the other side how it was that no one had ever come up with such a solution for him.
The meeting is now so incredibly large, and most who used to attend when I first started have retired.
Larry Norton, MD
It was in the mid-1970s. I was a clinical associate at the National Cancer Institute. I had left the bedside of a young man who was dying of widely metastatic testicular cancer to attend an ASCO meeting (which might have been my first).
Another young physician, Larry Einhorn, was presenting his experience with adding cisplatin to the more conventional drugs for my patient’s disease, and the results were nothing short of mind-blowing. His presentation hit me like a lightning bolt, so much so that I still remember the chair I was sitting in, my angle to the lectern. (The audience was much smaller then, by orders of magnitude.)
I left the meeting early to try the new drug on my patient, who had a spectacular response.
The wonder of it all, the magic that a new drug could create, thrills me to this day. And this was on top of my exposure to MOPP—then curing, for the first time, a previously fatal lymphoma. I learned that what is lethal one day could be curable the very next day: A message of hope for us all.
In 1974, I joined 17 others to start the first oncology business team at Adria Laboratories. We, however, did not attend the ASCO meetings, as we were on a very limited budget. We did, however, do our training at Indiana University under the tutelage of my dear friend, Larry Einhorn and his team of Steve Williams, Pat Loehrer and Craig Nichols.
As a little background, in 1982, I left Adria and became the marketing manager for a new startup oncology business at Mead Johnson Oncology (later to become Bristol-Myers Oncology in 1984. Squibb became part of our business in 1990.)
Once we became Bristol-Myers Oncology, I decided to form a European advisory board. Gianni Bonadonna was the chair. Members included Gordon McVie, Des Carney, David Khayat, Heine Hansen, Bob Pinedo, Hernan Cortez-Funez and Dieter Hoelzer.
At Bristol-Myers, our chairman, Dick Gelb, had a group of advisers which included John Ultmann, Saul Rosenberg, Sam Hellmann and several others. I can’t remember if Paul Marks and Paul Carbone were advisers, but I think they were.
In 1982, I was fortunate to have made friends with Dr. Philip Schein. Phil and I assembled a group of advisers for Mead Johnson Oncology. That advisory board was composed of noted oncologists: Larry Einhorn, George Canellos, Paul Calabresi, John Durant, John Glick, Franco Muggia, Brandy Sicik, Stan Winokur, Rich Desser, and Phil as chairman. In 1983, this board helped Mead Johnson establish the first award given by ASCO (other than the Karnofsky Lecture).
The award was to recognize a young investigator in cancer. This award led to the support of many young investors over the years. I think ASCO discontinued this specific program to use that funding for many prestigious awards.
As it turned out, Phil was president-elect of ASCO and would serve as president in 1983-1984. Phil appointed a committee to select the first recipient of the Mead Johnson Young Investigator Award. That committee consisted of Sharon Murphy, Eli Glatstein, Bob Mayer and me.
To get to the point, my first ASCO meeting was in 1983, which I attended for only one day. My only recollection of that meeting was that Phil and I met with Saul Rosenberg to share with him the establishment of the ASCO Award Program by Mead Johnson Oncology. Saul thought that was a brilliant idea and congratulated us. He was later given credit for its establishment, but that is incorrect information. It is true, however, that Saul was the ASCO president when he learned of it.
My real first ASCO meeting was in 1984 in Toronto. Wonderful memories of two important milestones for ASCO. Most importantly, the first Mead Johnson Young Investigator Award was awarded to Dr. Judith Kaur. Many may know that she went on to become an important figure in oncology due to her work with native Americans.
The other memory was that Mead Johnson sponsored the first ASCO President’s Reception in honor of Dr. Philip Schein. That reception continued on for years as the Bristol-Myers Squibb President’s Reception. It brought together the leaders in cancer treatment from around the world.
All of this was back in the days when industry and oncology doctors (and nurses) were in the battle against cancer, together!
I am no longer active in my oncology consulting business, but am an emeritus member of ASCO.
Daniel F. Hayes, MD
My first ASCO was, I think, 1985, in Toronto. It might have been 1984 or 1986. But for sure, in Toronto.
A highlight from my first ASCO was seeing the “stars” in the field both present and also discuss/debate from the floor.
The most memorable moment for me was being president in 2017 and having the privilege of presenting the presidential address. But there are many, many more, both public and private events.
Also, getting to chair an educational symposium on tumor biomarkers, probably in the mid-late 1990s, which kicked off my thinking about how to get tumor biomarker tests into clinical use with high levels of evidence to support doing so- a fundamental tenet of much of my later career.
My most star-stuck moment was probably when Phil Schein and Charles Moertel got into a debate over adjuvant therapy for colorectal cancer. Both were in the audience while the presenter (I have no idea who that was or what the topic was) watched them give and take across the ballroom (ASCO meeting was pretty small in those days). Finally, Dr. Moertel said “Sorry, we didn’t mean to turn this into the Phil and Chuck show.”
My experience at the annual meeting has changed, of course, and in so many ways—size, for example (I think the meeting in Toronto probably had 500-1,000 attendees, and now we expect 35,000 to 50,000, depending on COVID).
Greatest regrets: I was not at ASCO when Larry Einhorn presented his first 50 or so patients, and received a standing ovation for the results. Also, I was not at ASCO in 2005, when the adjuvant trastuzumab trials were presented and George Sledge’s now legendary Discussion.
Brenda Nevidjon, MSN, RN
My earliest memory of attending ASCO is from the 1980s.
For many years, ONS and ASCO were held in the same city, and one followed the other. I recall an overlap day in which there were joint workshops. These meetings were much more intimate than today’s annual meetings.
Once the two organizations began holding their meetings in different cities and at different times, I did not attend ASCO again until I was ONS president in 2008.
I knew the ASCO meeting had a large attendance with half coming from outside the United States. It was exciting and exhausting, which is how I have found every ASCO meeting since then.
Mace Rothenberg, MD
My first ASCO was in 1987, when I was a second year medical oncology fellow at the NCI. I remember feeling awed seeing so many luminaries in person for the very first time. There was great excitement about new cytotoxic agents emerging from the laboratory with novel mechanisms of action.
New insights into the complex pharmacology of 5-FU–considered one of the most active and versatile drugs in the cancer treatment arsenal at the time–opened the door to new approaches of drug administration, like prolonged infusion or hepatic arterial infusion.
The field of immunotherapy was beginning to gain attention, with reports by Steve Rosenberg and colleagues from NCI of long-term survival in a few patients with metastatic melanoma and renal cell carcinoma. Side effects were described as manageable and no worse than many chemotherapeutic regimens of the day. There was a sense of great excitement and urgency to build on those achievements by adding lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), and/or flavone acetic acid (FAA) to the mix.
This meeting occurred during a period of industry extravagance. Companies competed with one another for the prestige of having the largest exhibit in the best location at ASCO. They tried to attract “A-list” practitioners and researchers to lavish dinners, receptions, and parties. As cash-poor “D-list” fellows, my roommate, Jeff Weber, and I did our best to finagle our way into as many of these as we could, with a goal of never having to pay for a dinner at ASCO ourselves.
While we were more successful some days than others, the one consistent feature was the perplexed reaction of the host when he saw us and must have thought, “Who are these guys and how did they get in here?”
Charles R. Thomas, Jr., MD
My first ASCO was spring 1988, in New Orleans. I appreciated the importance of prospective clinical trials in making an impact inpatient care.
I believe that two of the plenary session talks were memorable. Dr. Canellos presented on a CALGB-led lymphoma trial and Dr. Saul Rosenberg was the discussant. The mutual respect was evident. The presentation by Nick Petrelli (then at Roswell Park) showing 5-FU/leucovorin was a step forward for patients w/colorectal cancer was also a high point at that meeting.
Most memorable ASCO moment? Watching Dr. Pierce give the presidential address was a very big deal on so many levels.
At the 1989 ASCO meeting in San Francisco, I took a meeting bus from the convention center back to my hotel. I happened to sit next to Dr. Patrick Loehrer (at the time an associate professor at Indiana University). He introduced himself, and was very kind to me. I was a medical oncology fellow at Rush University (Chicago, IL) & Dr. Loehrer had mentioned that he was a medical student at Rush.
He’s been helpful to me over the past few decades, and even allowed me to participate in various thymic neoplasm academic projects over the years. I now get the opportunity to begin collaborations with his son, Dr. Andrew Loehrer, who is a surgical oncologist at Dartmouth. The Loehrers are very authentic and decent individuals.
I spend a lot of time proactively identifying emerging talent, and have become more disciplined in processing the presentations at the sessions I attend. I also am actively looking to find high quality abstract presentations that may be worth soliciting the eventual manuscript for JAMA Oncology.
Lori J. Pierce, MD
My first ASCO meeting was in 1989, when I was chief resident in radiation oncology at UPenn. I had heard so much about ASCO’s annual meeting, but even so, I was in awe of the organization and the meeting! There was so much to learn and so many people whose research I had read to see!
It is hard to remember one memorable moment or highlight because I just took it all in. And although I knew ASCO was the medical oncology society, it was clear to me then that ASCO’s focus was multidisciplinary. Oncologists of every discipline were highlighted at the meeting. ASCO wanted to hear all viewpoints.
I knew then that I wanted to be involved in ASCO whenever possible in the years to come. I never imagined that one day, I would be elected president of ASCO.
With respect to how the meeting experience has changed for me, I now have to be strategic in how I approach which sessions I will attend because the number of presentations and venues have dramatically increased over time. While, for me, the in-person experience is so important, I also enjoy catching some of the sessions I could not attend in person virtually so I can still take it all in. And, after all these years and all my experiences with ASCO, I am still in awe of the organization and the meeting.
Alan Bennett, JD
Unlike a number of others who are commenting on ASCO, I am a lawyer. I had started off my career working at the FDA and as a Senate staffer, but when I entered private practice in 1981, I spent my first 15 years or so representing major pharma companies on oncology issues, and got to know the major players and the culture pretty well.
I was invited by one of my clients to my first ASCO in San Francisco in 1989. I’m confident of the year, because the Tiananmen uprising was going on in China at the time and on every television screen in San Francisco.
In 1989, I was still fairly new to law practice and had never been to a major medical meeting or trade show. I had no idea what to expect. During the day, my assignment was to monitor the promotional activities of the client’s competitors; I wandered the floor, was impressed by the breadth of interest in cancer treatments across the industry, and I attended some of the scientific presentations.
But it was the evening events that made the biggest impression on me. All the large companies held events that were (a) extravagant and (b) an enormous amount of fun. The first one I attended involved walking into a cavernous hotel ballroom over a scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge. When I descended from the bridge into the ballroom, one of the leading Motown groups—I think it was the Four Tops—was entertaining the guests. And the food and drink were limitless and absolutely terrific. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
It did strike me as a little odd that companies had representatives stationed outside the hotel ready to pay cab drivers who delivered the doctors to the various parties… surely oncologists could pay cab fare, and it did feel a little awkward.
But at the time, I didn’t dwell on that detail.
Of course, by the time I attended my last ASCO, sometime around 2007, things had changed considerably. The OIG had issued its guidance for pharmaceutical companies in 2003, “compliance” was becoming part of the pharma vocabulary and companies were at least contemplating establishing compliance departments if they hadn’t done so already.
Gone were the extravagant parties and cash payments of cab fare. I’ve attended a lot of political fundraisers in my career and many of them have receptions involving a few bottles of wine and a bowl of potato chips and not much more; by 2007, although company receptions hadn’t reached that point, they did seem headed in that direction.
I’m glad I got to attend a couple of the ASCO receptions when they were in their heyday. Whether the legal pressure to cut them back was necessary is a discussion for another day.
Howard A. “Skip” Burris, III, MD
My first ASCO was in 1989 at the relatively new Moscone Center in San Francisco. I was an oncology fellow at the time, training in San Antonio, and an Army officer, at Brooke Army Medical Center, in a joint program shared with the University of Texas at San Antonio. The President of ASCO that year (1988-89) was also our cancer center director, Dr. Charles Coltman, a former Air Force officer.
That year’s ASCO featured some of the early clinical trial results for Taxol, with the Johns Hopkins team reporting “incredible” 30% response rates in relapsed ovarian cancer patients. The excitement for this new chemotherapeutic at that time is hard to describe, but the stories of the yew trees, and the responses, and the concern for our forests is a vivid memory.
The memorable moments at ASCO are numerous and I don’t know that one in particular stands out. The initial results with the taxanes, the bevacizumab results in colon cancer, and the adjuvant breast cancer trastuzumab results quickly come to mind as highlights. There is always an exciting advance for our patients. The Karnofsky lectures remain prominently in my mind, from Dr. Einhorn’s story of curing testicular cancer to Dr. Von Hoff’s memorable “The last 12 weeks,” and many other outstanding ones.
The only “star-struck” thought is how kind and gracious the majority of our cancer leaders were to me back in the day and still are to the younger professionals. Busy and prominent cancer superstars such as Drs. Mayer, Norton, Canellos, DeVita, Von Hoff, Ozols, Bunn, Einhorn—there were many—who gave time and attention to me and others at this annual cancer gathering to discuss the best of science and to educate others.
The ASCO meeting is still a highlight of my year, but maybe more so now it is to see and connect with friends and colleagues. Seeing many of these folks for the first time in a few years will make the 2022 meeting as special as my first in 1989.
Cliff Hudis, MD
I attended my very first ASCO as a fellow in 1989 or 1990. I can’t be sure today, but I do recall feeling insecure and intimidated as I stood in front of a poster board, absorbing comments and trying to answer questions from people who had years of experience and insights.
But perhaps my greatest early ASCO memory was just a couple of years later at the 28th Annual Meeting in 1992, when we still fit in the Hotel del Coronado. As I checked in, candidate Bill Clinton caused a small ripple of excitement by strolling through the lobby during a campaign stop in San Diego. Maybe I saw him out of the corner of my eye, maybe not.
But that was a milestone meeting for me, because I had the extraordinary honor of presenting my team’s pilot study of dose-dense adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer in an oral abstract session chaired by William Wood and Larry Norton. My presentation was one of four discussed collectively by Vincent DeVita. First Gianni Bonadonna shared the results of the Milan study of sequential doxorubicin and then CMF.
Then I presented our pilot study in which high dose cyclophosphamide (supported by granulocyte-colony stimulating factor or “G-CSF”) replaced CMF in the same regimen. Then Bill Peters followed with a study of CAF followed by high dose chemotherapy supported by bone marrow reinfusion and finally Alessandro M. Gianni presented the use of G-CSF supporting high dose sequential chemotherapy.
Even today, the names of the moderators, speakers, and discussion, fill me with awe, and I am amazed that I had the good fortune to participate. But I was awed back then too and didn’t sleep a wink the night before.Cliff Hudis
These four presentations were like steps up a stairway as they were all built on a shared model of sequential (now “dose-dense”) chemotherapy administration. Further, collectively they led to randomized trials that define standard treatment to this day.
Even today, the names of the moderators, speakers, and discussion, fill me with awe, and I am amazed that I had the good fortune to participate. But I was awed back then too and didn’t sleep a wink the night before.
Knowing whom I was going to be on stage with—names that every breast oncologist knew and revered—petrified me and I spent the entire previous night staring at myself in the bathroom mirror practicing my 12-minute presentation over and over again.
If there is a takeaway, it is that meetings really can provide extraordinary introductions, networking opportunities, and lifelong connections. That one did for me!
Charles Blanke, MD
My first ASCO was in the early ‘90’s. That’s as precise as I can be three decades later!
A highlight was either my first or second ASCO. I remember Rich Fisher’s plenary presentation on a number of modern chemo regimens NOT being more effective than CHOP in NHL. I was shocked a negative trial made the plenary!
My most memorable moment was walking out on stage to give my 2001 plenary and seeing an enormous sea of expectant faces!
In a close, second, I was education chair the year Kathy Miller headed up the program committee. I am diabetic, and had a hypoglycemic episode in the middle of the night. I texted her (she was right next door) but Dr. Miller didn’t respond.
When I asked her about it the next day, she said she didn’t see the text for about two hours after I sent it, and by that point I was either deceased or I had recovered. She is so practical!
Most star-struck moment: I remember seeing Dave Johnson and talking about my mentor Larry Einhorn. I said how amazing it was that every oncologist at ASCO knew who Larry was. Dave said, “So, that’s about 35,000 people that know his name. How many millions in this city alone know who Madonna is?”
How my experience at the meeting has changed: Less presenting and more attending. But the thrill of being at the meeting never goes away.
Andrew Chapman, DO
My first ASCO was in 1992 as a second year fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
It was a joint meeting between ASCO and AACR—a seven-day event, with world-renown basic and clinician scientists presenting their work. I was in total awe of the exciting work being done and that I could actually be a part of it.
My most memorable moment was receiving the BJ Kennedy Award for Excellence in Geriatric Oncology in 2020. Something I did not expect and was so grateful for the recognition.
Most star-struck moment was meeting Bernie Fisher at the 1992 meeting.
The sheer magnitude of the meeting is so impressive including the ground breaking work that is being reported from all over the globe. Based on the size of both the ASCO and AACR meetings, they had to be split years ago. ASCO now requires careful planning and navigation. The electronic tools have made the planning and navigation seamless and I am continually impressed at how organized and well run the meeting is each year.
Looking forward to getting back to the in person meetings after the two years of virtual meetings.
Wafik El-Deiry, MD, PhD
My first ASCO meeting was 1992 in San Diego as a second-year fellow at Johns Hopkins. It was a treat as the head of medical oncology at Johns Hopkins at the time, Marty Abeloff, a leader in the field of breast medical oncology who tested an intense 16-week regimen to treat locally advanced breast cancer, was also ASCO’s president in 1991-1992.
It was my first visit to San Diego, and I loved every bit of it. At the time, it was still in the days of joint ASCO-AACR meetings. First time to land in a downtown airport in San Diego. I rented a car, and it was great to see La Jolla and other parts of San Diego, and to try the amazing Mexican food there.
Those were the days of lavish exhibits at the ASCO part of the meeting where big pharma held impressive receptions and gave attendees gifts. However, I never felt undue influence from the pharmaceutical industry. The lavishness and gifts would quickly disappear once the AACR part of the joint meeting started. I don’t recall much other than the beautiful weather in San Diego that I had only heard about.
The experience of attending that first ASCO meeting no doubt motivated my first ASCO abstract submissions the following year (one each with co-fellows Carlos Caldas and Larry Morris):
- Caldas, C., and El-Deiry, W. Favorable Outcome of Cancer Patients with Cardiac Tamponade Treated with Pericardial Drainage Alone. Proc. ASCO 12:461 (Abstract No. 1605), 1993, and
- El-Deiry, W., and Morris, L. High Cost of Hospital Admissions for Patients at Low Risk to Develop Complications from Febrile Neutropenia. Proc ASCO 12:461 (Abstract No. 1606), 1993.
That second abstract was ahead of its time, and others would eventually pursue outpatient therapy for those low risk patients. I certainly felt like a bit of a trouble-maker for pursuing something that would actually reduce costs and perhaps affect revenue from inpatient hospitalizations. That was certainly ahead of its time in a different era where the concept of financial toxicity didn’t exist.
I would become a member of ASCO by 1997, after moving to Penn for my first faculty position in 1994. My cancer center director at Penn at the time, John Glick, was president of ASCO in 1995-1996.
My most enjoyable and memorable ASCO presidential address was given by George Sledge (ASCO president in 2010-2011) as he spoke about clinical cancer biology, stupid cancers, and the future of precision oncology. It was one of the most inspiring talks I heard at ASCO. If you go to Twitter and search “@weldeiry Sledge” you can see the notes I shared live in 2011, although at the time my phone wasn’t so great with taking and sharing images live. The images below came from my post-meeting summary.
During my years at Penn State, as chief of hem-onc from 2010-2014, I enjoyed our private division meeting dinner/reception held at ASCO at Spiaggia Restaurant. The collegiality was amazing. After going back to Pennsylvania, I would report back about developments in my own specialty of colorectal cancer as well as scientific advances that impacted novel therapeutics in general. I continued to report back during my years at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
It was a great experience to be part of the tumor biology track committee, and to ultimately serve as the track leader in 2016-2017. My most memorable experience was in trying to propose abstracts to the program committee for oral presentation. They were a tough group that was hard to please or impress (and I told them so).
I enjoyed giving a presentation on June 4, 2017 on “Emerging Complexity of Tumor Heterogeneity and Clinical Practice,” as Speaker and Chair, Education Session “Tumor and Clinical Heterogeneity,” ASCO Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.
My last in person ASCO meeting was 2019 pre-COVID and is summarized in this tweet.
Life was certainly different since then and nothing is better than the in person meetings so I’m really looking forward to #ASCO22.
An incredibly memorable part of that 2019 meeting was to attend the oral session for experimental therapeutics and see data about ONC201/TIC10 that was discovered in my lab at Penn in 2007 presented with great results in aggressive midline gliomas: (See the whole thread).
And this was a back-to-back presentation with the KRAS G12C oral presentation.
For most of my career attending ASCO meetings since my first one in 1992, 30 years ago, the best part has been about seeing colleagues and networking.
This happened at poster sessions, in the hallways, coffee shops, lunch areas, hotels, cancer center or pharma receptions, exhibit halls, and symposia. Running into colleagues like Joe Bertino, Ben Neel, Nancy Davidson, Ross Donehower, Lynn Schuchter, Richard Schilsky, Leon Platanias, Dan von Hoff, David Sidransky or Wolfgang Oster was always a treat. Seeing colleagues with whom I have worked attending the ASCO meetings has always provided good memories.
Attending various events in different venues including in recent years the Caris Precision Oncology Alliance pre-ASCO meeting added to the learning and networking. Meetings with colleagues from industry facilitated collaborative work, including bringing clinical trials to my institutions. Attending the Giants of Cancer Care event or the ASCO president’s reception has always been an honor.
The interactions have been priceless and highly recommended for all oncologists, young and not so young.
Going through old stories, I see that the first ASCO annual meeting I covered was 1992, in San Diego. Until that year, I was covering Congress and the business of cancer.
Once ASCO became a part of my beat, I attempted to understand the power structures. The exhibit hall was the best place to look. The place had the layout of a European medieval village—the castle in the center, surrounded by more modest buildings. The exhibit belonging to Bristol-Myers Squibb, the company that made most cytotoxic drugs at the time, was without a doubt the castle.
On the outskirts stood the hovels, which included something called “the publishers’ ghetto.”
The village had a carnival atmosphere and smelled like money. Everyone was trying to put something—anything—into the hands of physicians, many of whom seemed willing to accept. Swag included big-ticket items like luggage.
At one point—I am not sure about the year—BMS decided to hand out cards, each charged with $20 that could be spent on telephone calls. This was before cell phones. The giveaway created two massive lines: one to get the card, the other to redeem it at the bank of payphones in the lobby.
At the ASCO president’s reception, BMS guys stood by the curb, holding wads of cash, peeling off $10 at a time, handing the money to taxi drivers ferrying the guests. At the reception, there was a well-stocked bar, a table with caviar, a table with oysters, and many other less noteworthy tables. Halfway through the gathering, Bob Comis, a man who three years later—in 1995—would become chair of Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, sat down at the grand piano, and started playing whatever the audience desired. Concluding the night’s festivities, Tom Jordan, a BMS executive, offered a heartfelt rendition of “My Way.”
This is my iconic ASCO moment: Comis bullshitting on the piano, with Jordan wearing an electric green country club sport coat, with tears in his eyes, belting out:
And now the end is here
And so I face that final curtain
My friend I’ll make it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way
I thought the biggest story at ASCO 1992 had to do with the price of levamisole, an agent that, in combination with 5-fluorouracil, appeared to be yielding significant improvement in the cure rate of Dukes C colon cancer patients (The Cancer Letter, June 12, 1992).
The price of levamisole seemed to upset folks. This was a huge story of international significance, and the meeting was abuzz with rumors about 60 Minutes doing a piece on this latest cancer scandal. (They never did.)
Our coverage of the controversy:
Having demonstrated that 5FU-levamisole significantly improves the cure rate of Dukes C colon cancer patients, the Mayo Clinic’s Charles Moertel went on to criticize the maker of levamisole at a plenary session of the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in San Diego last month.
American colon cancer patients pay $1,495 for a year’s supply of the drug, compared to owners of American sheep, who pay approximately $14 a year for levamisole used for deworming, he said.
The veterinary levamisole and the human kind are “the same doggone levamisole, precisely the same drug,” though the inert fillers are slightly different, Moertel said. “The only difference is the 100-fold difference in cost. I would hope the pharmaceutical company would realize this is totally beyond reason.”
Three decades later, as we look over Moertel’s statements about the advantages of combining 5-FU with levamisole versus using levamisole alone, all of us know that 5-FU-levamisole didn’t turn out to be the breakthrough it seemed to be at the 1992 ASCO plenary.
The village had a carnival atmosphere and smelled like money. Everyone was trying to put something—anything—into the hands of physicians, many of whom seemed willing to accept.Paul Goldberg
Levamisole would be supplanted with leucovorin, and while Moertel may have been seeing improvement in his single study, his results could well have been a false positive. Or they may have had something to do with the importance of adhering to protocol. Or it could have been what’s now known as the healthy volunteer effect. Who knows…
Over the years, I would hear GI oncologists express regret about questions not asked in those early trials. Nobody seemed to have addressed the question of activity of 5-FU versus placebo, and debates over the drug’s optimal dosage—or regimens—were never resolved. Some say that a trial comparing 5-FU-levamisole-leucovorin with 5-FU-leucovorin might have prevented a wrong turn.
Alas, the path to progress involves wrong turns, imperfectly posed and unanswered questions, standing in line for free calling cards, and joining lubricated, teary-eyed renditions of “My Way.”
I really have no memory of my first ASCO. Have no idea when that was.
My most memorable ASCO was when Dennis Slamon presented the her2 data. Don’t know if that was my first, or fifth, or whatever.
I also have a memory of some drug company having a large contingent of actors dressed up all in white, like soldiers or nutcrackers, and periodically marching through the exhibit hall. I remember thinking how inappropriate and embarrassing that was, and wondering how much it cost.
Monica Bertagnolli, MD
My first ASCO meeting was so long ago (I finished training in 1992). I don’t remember it.
I do have one great memory—it was in 2001, and Otis Brawley and I were both members of the Cancer Prevention Committee of ASCO. Bernard Levin was the chair, and when introducing me as a new member, he made the comment that ASCO valued diversity in its committees, and because of this had decided to include a surgeon (me).
All the committee members chuckled at this joke, and Otis passed me a note (which I saved to this day) that said “I like being part of a committee where their idea of diversity means including a surgeon!”
Julie Gralow, MD
My first ASCO meeting was during my fellowship in 1994, in Dallas, back when we were small enough to be able to rotate cities.
What I mainly remember was being overwhelmed with the size of the meeting, and the number of sessions and ancillary events. I was in awe of the science and wanted to attend every session! I had no idea how to navigate.
The following year, in 1995 at the ASCO annual meeting in Los Angeles, I received a Career Development Award, which was a big highlight of my early career. I remember walking from the convention center to an off-site event to celebrate the award and seeing a film crew set up in the street. All of a sudden, Al Pacino ran right by me in a shoot-out, and there was Robert De Niro across the street. They were filming the movie “Heat.” Only in LA.
The most memorable ASCO moment for me has to be the standing ovation and overflow crowd (another whole room!) for the adjuvant trastuzumab abstracts presented in a special symposium session at the 2005 annual meeting in Orlando. No need to get out a magnifying glass to see the separation of curves! George Sledge, discussant for the trials, said “l’ve never seen anything like this in 25 years of breast cancer research.”
In 2003 I was given a VIP pass to attend a benefit concert for the ASCO Foundation (now Conquer Cancer) in the Arie Theater at McCormick Place featuring Elton John. Former ASCO president Larry Norton accompanied him on a song or two on a homemade electric mandolin (or maybe it was a zither). Not sure if I was more star-struck by Sir Elton or Dr. Norton!
I’ve certainly gotten better at navigating the meeting, making use of lounges for a quick break (including the Women’s Networking Lounge and Conquer Cancer donor lounge!), and understanding the layout and short-cuts at McCormick Place. And with the more recent ability to watch sessions on demand, I no longer have to try to be in two places at once. Over the years, I’ve learned to balance my time at the annual meeting to learn from new science, conduct business, and also meet up with old friends for a little fun down-time.
I’ll be attending my first in-person meeting in my role as ASCO’s CMO this year, and it will be busier for me than ever. Can’t wait to see everyone in Chicago!
Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD
I attended my first ASCO early in my career in 1995 during my first year of medical oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute under the mentorship of George Callenos (George P. Canellos, MD), Bob Mayer (Robert Mayer, MD), and Arthur Skarin (Arthur Skarin, MD).
I was like a kid in a candy shop traveling cross country to Los Angeles for the meeting, and distinctly remember three presentations highlighting new treatments for patients with non-small cell lung cancer and the discussant sessions following, which were a new element to me.
One ECOG abstract highlighting paclitaxel plus carboplatin, presented by David Johnson, remains clear in my memory—mostly because I bought the cassette tapes to go back and review the presentation again! Without cell phones or online learning, the ASCO cassettes were our only option for presentation review following the meeting.
The social aspects of the ASCO annual meeting were an exciting surprise. Dr. Mayer’s assistant, Kim Bremner, snagged me a ticket to a premier ASCO party and I boarded a bus to an LA theater that year to be entertained with comedy by Jay Leno. Following his performance, I quickly followed the crowd to another bus and found myself at the Four Seasons for a lavish after-party, where the first of many fun photos was taken with me with Jay Leno and Andre Agassi. I’ve never seen the photo but remember the moment clearly!
I came back to DFCI in 1995 more excited about cancer care and oncology, and with a newfound buzz for cancer research. I had met new colleagues from around the country, including my future employers at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and was looking forward to the ASCO annual meeting in 1996 in Philadelphia and the Clinical Trials Summer Course that same year.
My ASCO experiences over the last 27 years speak to the science, art, and history of oncology, and the impact of mentorship on the growth and success of our field. I look forward to the meeting every year, and to sharing the experience with trainees and faculty from Yale and around the world.
Don Dizon, MD
My first meeting was as a first year oncology fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center back in 2000.
A highlight was definitely during the poster sessions. I remember attending the breast poster sessions and chatting with a few of the presenters, and Dr. Sandra Swain and Dr. Edith Perez were among them. I didn’t know them at the time, but I do remember they were so gracious and engaging. It was the first inkling that ASCO was a place without a pecking order—where key opinion leaders were presenting original research alongside fellows and residents. It was incredible.
An early memorable moment was riding on the bus to the convention center from the hotel. It was early on when I became an attending. I had applied for committee membership for the third straight year but did not get named. I was feeling bad for myself as we made our way to the center, and that’s when I struck up a conversation with Lisa Greaves, who now is Division Director of Educational meetings at ASCO. Back then, she was just a really engaging person I met on the bus. She told me she had read some of my online writings and introduced me to ASCO Connection, and the opportunity to write a blog then. That was over 100 blogs ago!!
It was the first inkling that ASCO was a place without a pecking order—where key opinion leaders were presenting original research alongside fellows and residents. It was incredible.Don Dizon
No matter how much older I am, I still have to fight this sense of being an imposter—even when I was named editor in chief of the “ASCO Educational Book.” I’ve gotten to go to the president’s dinner and/or reception, and I am always amazed to be in the presence of ASCO leadership and others who are so accomplished in our field—people who have led trials that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, JCO, and other top publications.
I have a sense of there being a mistake, that I wasn’t supposed to be there. But then, these same people greet me so warmly, and I realize that they aren’t special, and neither am I. We are all colleagues. Oncology truly is a special field and ASCO is a special society that way.
There’s no doubt that social media has brought another dimension to ASCO for me. I love being able to be at two places at once. Engaging on Twitter with folks beyond the profession, including with those actually living with cancer and those who advocate for them has brought a new dimension to how I see the data being presented, and more importantly, the way that that data is presented. Social media has made me so conscious that words matter, and that they matter a lot.
Seeing ASCO as a meeting place that draws such a diversity of attendees and of voices, amplified on social media, has made the experience all the richer. But, it will be so great to see everyone in person—masked up, of course.
Ishwaria Subbiah, MD
#MyFirstASCO was the 2000 ASCO Annual Meeting in New Orleans—I was a teen, occupying myself while my mom, a medical oncologist and my inspiration, listened to the sessions. While the oncologic content was lost on me, I did pick up this red mechanical alarm clock emblazoned with Procrit from the Exhibit Hall.
This indestructible appliance followed me through the usual life transitions from college, medical school, post-graduate training, and now sits on my home office shelf, where it is routinely weaponized as a projectile by our three young kids. While my prescribing patterns for the marketed product were not impacted, the clock reminds me often of ASCO 2000, of how medical oncology, patient care, and service to others were all a part of my upbringing.
#MyFirstASCO wearing my clinical oncology hat was the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting as a 1st year medical oncology fellow at MD Anderson. A year into my fellowship, I found limited resonance with the prospect of dedicating my professional life to one particular tumor type.
Instead, I was drawn to patients receiving care, participating in clinical trials, and the processes in cancer care impacting those patients—particularly the older adults aged 65 years and above. Without a geriatric oncology mentor in sight, but the ASCO 2013 abstract deadline on the horizon, I made my case to my then-chair, Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, on why we should look at older adult outcomes on phase I clinical trials.
I remember Dr. Kurzrock’s receptiveness to a concept not explored before in her department, the largest phase I clinical trials program in the world, one that she built from the ground up—it would not have been unexpected for such an accomplished global leader to dismiss new ideas but I remembered her reaction, receptiveness, and encouragement.
#MyFirstASCO was career-defining—from the abstract submission deadline itself to the actual meeting, ASCO 2013 was the driver for me to go down this gerionc and supportive care pathway. ASCO 2013 energized me times three:
- my chair supporting my process-centered abstract,
- the abstract reviewers accepting it for presentation, and
- the surreal notification of a merit award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation.
It was at ASCO 2013 when I first listened to Dr. Arti Hurria, Dr. Supriya Mohile, Dr. Tanya Wildes, Dr. William Dale, Dr. Efrat Dotan, and many such geriatric oncology visionaries and leaders, discuss “geriatricizing” clinical trial design and optimizing person-centered care. I found my calling, my tribe.
And that was just #MyFirstASCO!
Robert A. Winn, MD
My first ASCO was when I was junior faculty attending ASCO in Chicago in the early 2000s.
The most memorable moment at ASCO was the recognition of the number of people who were both in academics and in the community like me. Meeting and connecting with people who are passionate about clinical trials, the community, and the impact those trials have within their community is incredible.
Honestly, every year is a star-struck moment. ASCO brings many national and international names. There are so many clinical trials debuting that I’ve read about in papers and journals, and now I’m hearing investigators present those trials and findings at the conference! I’m star-struck at every time.
Over the years, the ASCO experience has changed due to COVID since we had to transition to meeting virtually. Therefore, I’m very excited to attend ASCO this year and see everyone in person.
Tatiana M. Prowell, MD
My first ASCO Annual Meeting was in 2005. That was the year that N9831, NSABP B-31, and HERA were presented in a Special Session on HER2 positive breast cancer. I remember three specific things about that meeting.
One was how important it was to me as a female oncology fellow to witness two remarkable women leaders in our field—Drs. Edith Perez and Martine Piccart—at the podium, changing everything we knew about breast cancer.
The second was the genuine wonder and joy of Dr. George Sledge as discussant: “Biology has spoken.” And the last was the audience’s reaction: the gasp, the silence, and then a standing ovation with people hugging and jumping up and down.
A woman two seats down in my row was bald, wearing a headscarf, and as the audience erupted in cheers, she pumped her fist in the air and yelled out “YES!” and bent over into her own lap crying.
I don’t know if she was a participant in one of the studies or a patient with breast cancer, but to this day, when I think of her, it still brings me to tears. I carry her in my heart to every conference as a reminder that those Kaplan-Meier curves are a collection of human beings waiting impatiently for the results of everything we do, hoping for those moments, and making them possible for others.
Karen Knudsen, PhD, MBA
It’s honestly hard to remember when I first attended ASCO—even before becoming a full member, I recognized as an early career translational scientist that this was the place to find my natural partners.
What struck me was that literally everyone I needed to speak to was right there at one meeting, from the clinical partners I wanted to collaborate with to develop new trials to the pharma partners needed to launch laboratory-based findings into the clinic.
In later years as a cancer center director and healthcare executive, ASCO took on even further meaning as we sought to extend center to center collaborations, and considered who we would bring on to our growing NCI-designated cancer center. As I always used to say to my team during key leadership searches, the kind of clinician or scientist we are looking for would be at ASCO, so let’s go find them!
As much as I love ASCO—and I do—I also want to recognize that my absolute favorite meeting every year is ASCO-GU. It’s clear to see how the ASCO-GU conference advances the field forward. You can almost feel the movement during the meeting! I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and was overjoyed in 2020 to serve as the Chair.
In sum, as a translational scientist, former cancer center director and healthcare executive, and now as CEO of the American Cancer Society, I continue to appreciate the power and impact of ASCO meetings in gathering together the best and brightest to advance the science, and improve patient care. Thank you, ASCO!
Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil
My first ASCO annual meeting was in 2008. I presented a poster entitled, “Association between researcher gender and sex of participants in clinical cancer research,” a subject that continues to be important even now.
I actually had to search old emails to confirm those details, but I’ll never forget the feeling of wonder and amazement I felt when I got there for that first meeting. It was incredibly inspiring to see the sheer scope and magnitude of the talent pool all united in working to conquer cancer. Over the years, I became more involved in ASCO and had the privilege of serving on the board of directors.
Even as my own role in this wonderful organization grew and evolved, the annual meeting experience has been a sort of constant I came to rely on. The enduring aspect of the annual meeting experience for me has been the exhilaration of being surrounded by like minds and hearts, people who all share a common vision: “A world where cancer is prevented or cured, and every survivor is healthy.” That is the power of the ASCO meeting.
Fumiko Ladd Chino, MD
My first ASCO was 2013. I was a MS3 at Duke University presenting work on financial toxicity, with my mentor Dr. Yousuf Zafar. My poster was selected for a poster discussion by Dr. Dawn Hershman which I remember being so excited about. Even at that time I knew she was a leader in cancer care delivery.
The conference itself was so overwhelming but I went to a Health Services dinner which was more intimate where I felt less lost. The dinner was organized by Dr. Aileen Chen. I remember sitting with her and Dr. Ryan Nipp, and chatting about my research and my goals. I was so thrilled I was able to participate as a medical student and so happy that I had found my research niche and that it was filled by passionate, engaged, and kind people.
I saw my mentor, Dr. Yousuf Zafar, absolutely crush it with his oral presentation on the cost of care. He was able to use storytelling and narrative medicine to present the data we had collected in a really thought-provoking way that definitely made an impression. Since then, I have really tried to follow that model, giving presentations that combine data and anecdote to highlight why financial toxicity matters to our patients.
In the past 9 years I have met so many more amazing oncologists and found my true community. I feel at home now at ASCO, I no longer stare into a faceless mass of people… I look and see my collaborators, friends, and colleagues.
Darya Kizub, MD
My first ASCO was in 2019.
A highlight was presenting my poster about risk factors of osteonecrosis of the jaw among women with early-stage breast cancer enrolled in Dr. Julie Gralow’s SWOG 0307 clinical trial—and a reporter interviewing me about the results.
My most memorable moment was attending the ASCO YIA and CDA awards reception at the impromptu invitation of my mentor, Dr. Julie Gralow. Hearing about the awardee’s innovative projects inspired me in my own cancer research.
My most star-struck moment was running into Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi. We have collaborated on the SWOG 0307 paper together, and he provided excellent comments about my first draft, yet I had never met him in person. Despite running late to a meeting, he made the time to talk with me. As I learn to mentor others, I hope to be at least half as gracious and accessible as Dr. Hortobagyi.
My experience has changed in that there are no impromptu meetings and chance fortunate connections that spark new ideas and collaborations when ASCO is virtual, though there are now more creative ways to connect online.
Virtual ASCO is more available to people who would not have been able to attend in-person, including members from low and middle-income countries. Despite taking careful precautions and receiving recommended vaccinations, I was unfortunately diagnosed with COVID-19, so will have to miss this year’s in-person meeting. I can’t wait to see everyone in person in 2023.
Coral Olazagasti, MD
It is incredible to think that my first ASCO was only recently in 2020. I didn’t attend during residency, because my love for medical oncology started towards the second half of my training.
During my first year of fellowship, I had a family member’s wedding, and was devastated to not be able to attend. 2020 was my year—and I was beyond excited, until the meeting was switched to virtual due to the global pandemic.
It was still a great opportunity to attend virtually, and I tried to network, engage on Twitter, and maximize my experience as much as possible. The following year, I was an ASCO Merit award recipient and could envision walking through McCormick proudly wearing the ASCO Merit Award ribbon. However, that didn’t happen either, and, for the second consecutive year, I attended virtually.
Finally, this year, as a recent graduate and first year faculty, I will be attending the live meeting for the first time. I have prepared in advance by going over the agenda and making my own personal schedules of sessions, posters, and events I do not want to miss.
I am eager to present my poster live, and honored to be a part of the Trainee & Early-Career roundtable to talk about Equity and Disparities. I am excited to see studies in thoracic and head and neck malignancies as well as the work being done in the health equity field.
Lastly, I look forward to meeting in person those oncologists I have admired via Twitter for a long time, and to connect with old colleagues and friends.