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Together in Hope...There's truth in that phrase

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WeAreFamily4.jpgGail Goodwin, program manager in External Communications at MD Anderson, is a survivor of a stage III oligodendroglioma, a rare malignant brain tumor. She is grateful for her "dream team" in the MD Anderson Brain and Spine Center -- specifically, her surgeon Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., who was one of the conference chairs, and her oncologist Charles Conrad, M.D., who spoke at the conference.

Two years ago, when I was only a few weeks out of brain surgery, I was waiting in the Brain and Spine Center, and someone came by with information about a brain tumor conference. Since my entire situation was still a little much for me to comprehend, I said maybe next time.

Next time did come. Together in Hope, a conference for brain tumor patients and their families, was held this May 20-22. Once again, the Brain and Spine Center at MD Anderson and the National Brain Tumor Society teamed up to provide patients and their caregivers information on:

  • pathology
  • surgery
  • the newest treatment strategies
  • what current research advances can mean for future therapies

The bad news was that I was again unable to attend -- this time I was out of town. But, the good news was that my husband, who is also my forever caregiver, went for some of the conference and even taped a few of the speakers for me to hear later.

Although I wasn't there in person, I was there in spirit. Much of the information I heard on the tapes Clif brought home was all Greek to me. What I did understand, and what resonates with me, is that cancer -- even when you're talking about brain cancer specifically -- is not just one disease, it's many, and it requires multiple targets. Because cancer takes numerous forms, you need numerous drugs and combinations of drugs to hit these targets.

In accordance with the conference goals, there was a great deal of information on drug development. Charles Conrad, M.D., professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology, and my own personal oncologist, spoke about the fact that no form of chemotherapy is standard treatment for brain cancer. He also thanked those who support the research that leads to the development of new drugs, noting that most drugs are not supported by state or national funding.

Even though I was not at the conference, I have been to enough meetings with cancer patients and their loved ones to know that there was intense energy ricocheting around the presentations, panel discussions and workshops. Patients, both in and out of treatment, were there, often with caregivers in tow.

The conference provided speakers on:
  • how to find brain tumor information on the Internet
  • what's new in brain tumor treatment
  • how to maximize cognitive function
  • how to understand and manage treatment-related complications
  • numerous other issues
Hope for caregivers
Many caregivers were there, as my husband was, to support their loved ones who must make this cancer journey. They were there to hold hands, give a needed hug and also to learn what they could. A few, if they are anything like my husband, didn't even realize that what they were doing is called being a caregiver.

"What's that?" Clif asked. "I'm not a caregiver. I'm just your husband."

He was correct, he is my husband. But I can assure you that he is also my caregiver. From the very beginning, he has been by my side to comfort me if I needed comfort, but also to do all the mundane things like making sure that I had breakfast, coming home from work to get my lunch, heating up whatever delicious dinner a friend had brought by. As I recovered, but was still unable to drive, he carted me to and from work each day for six months. For at least 18 months, he brought me my daily pills in a cute little bowl with a big glass of water.

Now we're at the joking stage. "I can't do that," I might insist. "I've had brain surgery." To be honest, we're just a team.

As a brain cancer patient, I am grateful for conferences such as Together in Hope. It
means just what it says: We all come together hoping and praying for a cure.

Watch the welcome video from the Together in Hope Conference

Other Together in Hope conference attendees talk about why they came to the conference and what they were hoping to get out of it.

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