It’s ESMO time. ESMO stands for European Society of Medical Oncology, also known as, we get to go somewhere in Europe, listen to oncology updates, and get lost in the fascinating tangled trains of Europe. Not this year, of course. The first time I attended it was in 2016, in Copenhagen. It was my first time to go somewhere extremely cold, and I came in totally unprepared. I got off the plane in my X-Files t-shirt, and got assaulted by the 7 degree-celsius wind. I hyperventilated as I crawled to the carousel, hoping I wouldn’t pass out before I could get to my jacket. I had one jacket, an orange mountain climber’s Columbia that I had used throughout the trip. So in all my photos I looked haggard and pimply and bright orange. My companion, senior consultant and seasoned traveller Dra. Amoranto, had a change of wardrobe for each potential photo opportunity. My goal was to be like her.
In 2017 we attended the conference in summery Madrid. In one of the highlights of this conference the data for the efficacy of the drug osimertinib was presented. The data boasting of its benefits among lung cancer patients with EGFR mutation was so impressive, that the audience gave a standing ovation. Of course I went along with the standing ovation, but secretly my eyes were rolling because in my heart, I knew that very few of my patients could afford the drug. I currently have a few patients on this medication, and they are doing great. One particular patient of mine, a young pharmacist, had been diagnosed to have stage 4 lung cancer in 2018. Three years into osimertinib she is still doing so well, living life normally, minus the financial toxicity of having to fork out a hundred thousand pesos each month.
I missed the conference in 2018 held in Berlin, but was able to once again attend in 2019 in Barcelona. Although it is the most recent, strangely all I remember about it was consuming huge amounts of paella and tapas, and falling asleep in the middle of dinner out of jetlag. And of course, the side trips. As soon as the conference was over we booked a flight to Helsinki, rode a 12-hour train to Rovaniemi, where we climbed a mountain to catch the aurora borealis. It never showed up. “Ayun! Ayun!” I remember maniacally screaming as I pointed at a wisp of white smoke, thinking it was the aurora. It was a wisp of white smoke.