From “Empire State of Mind” to “(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco” to “Streets of Philadelphia” and “Miami,” there are innumerable love songs penned to American cities. This is a love song for San Antonio.
For more than four decades, the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) has brought together providers, scientists, researchers, and breast cancer advocates with the singular goal of reducing breast cancer deaths. The international, multidisciplinary conference brings together the world’s leading breast cancer experts; amplifies patient voices, and provides training and mentorship for patient advocates. Dr. Love is a regular attendee and this year, as she has many times in the past, she will both present research and serve as an advocate mentor.
As with everything else in 2020, SABCS has gone virtual. For the first time in my career, I will not spend a week of the holiday season in the great Republic of Texas, marveling at the beauty of the lights along the Riverwalk or bumping into friends at Bar Rojo. Instead of being in a hotel room, I will be on my laptop, near the distracting hum of my children and my everyday responsibilities. The upside, I suppose, is that I will not need to set an alarm to remind my husband to move Alfred, our elf, nor will I get a sore bottom from the unbearably hard chairs of the Henry B. González Convention Center.
Yet the sense of loss is palpable. San Antonio is more than simply a conference. It is a confluence. The comfortable size and the unmistakable certainty that the person you encounter is there to end breast cancer makes it easy to strike up new conversations. I have made lifelong friends on the unending escalators to the Stars at Night Ballroom. Many of my most important lessons at SABCS have come at the hands of patients who have spoken out about inequities in research, asked insightful questions, shared firsthand experiences, and have been eager to brainstorm next steps after we’ve heard the latest research advances. I have drawn restorative inspiration from listening to honorary lecture as giants in the field reflect on their careers. I have applauded uproariously as Vogl New York points out that a presentation just lauded by the speaker as earth-shattering is anything but. I have sat with trusted mentors and colleagues, learning and tweeting our way through sessions. I have discussed all aspects of future and ongoing clinical trials in crowded cubicles and cold hotel boardrooms. My most favorite moments regularly occur in the meeting after the meeting, when friends new and old, mentees and mentors, discuss new data against the backdrop of their ongoing work and collaborations.
From those hallway introductions, coffee shop pitches, poster discussions, and late-night conversations, next years’ projects unfold. Grassroots networking and organic conversations lead to the intermingling of academia and community, patients and physicians, scientists and clinicians, nonprofits and pharma, regulators and advocates, all creating that space where the magic happens. San Antonio’s environment levels the networking playing field for women and minorities, for early-career scientists and patient advocates. For me, San Antonio is magical. It is the city where everyone comes together to end breast cancer.
What brings me hope is that the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research creates the same magic, with our depth of connections, reputation of excellence, scientific breadth, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and success in fostering connections. I’m incredibly happy to be part of the amazing group of people at the Foundation who will be spending this week of December singing the song of San Antonio.