Notes from a Patient Advocate on SABCS 2023

When it comes to transforming the lives of people living with metastatic breast cancer, patients are the lived experience experts – so it’s vital that the research community have the opportunity to freely communicate and collaborate with people living with disease. Patient advocate Teri Pollastro, who attended the 2023 San Antonio Breast Cancer Conference as a representative of the MBC Alliance, is an example of how patient voices make these conversations richer. 

by Teri Pollastro,
Patient Advocate & MBC Alliance Member

I had the incredible opportunity to attend the 2023 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) in person this year, marking my first in-person attendance since December 2019. Time truly flew by, and one of the most significant changes for me was having my daughter accompany me. It was an absolute delight to have her at the same conference, especially considering her work for a biotech company that specializes in companion diagnostics for various cancers, including breast cancer.

Fast forward to a heartwarming moment in San Antonio, where we planned to be on the same flight so that we could enjoy some private mom and daughter time. Eager to make the most of our time, we checked into my hotel and embarked on a memorable evening. The city’s enchanting holiday lights illuminated our path as we strolled along the famous River Walk, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.

With our appetites piqued, we settled down at a Tex Mex restaurant, indulging in delicious flavors and savoring the joy of being together. It was a beautifully warm night, and we decided to embark on a boat ride along the river. We were treated to a wealth of fascinating information and beautiful holiday lights.

As someone who has been living with metastatic breast cancer for 20 years, my two daughters grew up with this disease looming over them. I’ve witnessed the impact it has had on their lives. Unsurprisingly, my cancer journey also greatly influenced my older daughter’s career path. She has stayed committed to working with cancer and is extremely interested in staying within breast cancer. Her first role was at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, WA, where she worked in the clinical trial unit for breast cancer.

I have been involved in advocacy for the last 15 years or so, and I try to attend the advocacy sessions that are held at SABCS. Consequently, the next morning we headed out early to the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) presentation for patient advocates. It was somewhat ironic that the session, “The Breast Cancer Vaccine Landscape,” included a clinical trial that I was involved with in 2004 and followed up with a booster vaccine in 2017. Out of twenty stage 4 patients, there are currently 10 of us who are still alive. In addition, the speaker, Dr. Sasha Stanton, was involved with my original clinical trial. She also worked with my daughter previously. As you can see, the breast cancer world is somewhat small.

Our journey continued with the session “New Drug Approvals for Metastatic Breast Cancer.” Despite being an experienced advocate, I appreciated having someone by my side who could navigate the complex scientific information with more ease than I could. It’s a reminder that while I yearn to report groundbreaking advances, progress in this field is often measured in small, hopeful steps. It is difficult for us to live in a world of small, hopeful steps when we want big curative steps! However, it was nice to see a familiar face on the stage representing the metastatic patient, Janice Cowden.

That evening, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance (MBCA) held their semi-annual meeting, and my daughter was invited to attend. Although we were seated apart, the warmth of the community was palpable, with frequent check-ins ensuring she was at ease. Witnessing the diversity and number of attendees from a multitude of organizations was nothing short of inspiring. Observing MBCA’s evolution from its nascent stages to a robust coalition encompassing patients, nonprofits, and pharmaceutical companies fills me with hope. The collective efforts aimed at finding a cure for our condition is a testament to this growth.

As the night ended and we walked back to our respective hotels, my daughter and I exchanged goodnights. She was transitioning to another hotel, poised to immerse herself in her company’s endeavors. Nonetheless, that day was etched into my memory, a poignant moment of sharing my advocacy journey with her. Reflecting on the strides made by the cancer community—from bench scientists and patient advocates to clinicians—I am profoundly aware that their relentless efforts are the reason I am here today. Moreover, they’ve afforded me the precious opportunity to witness the blossoming of my daughter into the intelligent, driven woman she has become. So to all of you, I say thank you.