Attending cancer conferences has become a big part of my life. Usually I am a speaker and rarely attend for the entire conference, but on other occasions I am there as a guest. Hours of watching very clever people reading from a PowerPoint presentation is not my idea of fun. There is only so long you can concentrate on that type of delivery, unless you are fully engaged in the subject. Senior management and clinicians are not always the best people to present as many lack any charisma, and struggle to do their subject justice.
Of course cancer is a very difficult subject to talk about, and can be tricky to make it entertaining. I always feel that to make an impact, you really need a good spread of experience in the room, but that rarely is the case. We have professionals, carers, patient conferences, but not normally a mix of all three. On the rare occasions that happens, the conference is run by professionals and there is very little time given to patients, as they are moved from one session to another, being told about the incredible work all the organisations are doing. In the breaks you are greeted with the usual large charities, attempting to convince you that they are the ones that deserve your money.
All of us deserve better than this and professional laziness is the only reason why this style of conference still exists. But now, people are beginning to rebel against the same old systems! Chris Curtis is one of those people. He is a head and neck cancer patient who is determined to improve the current system with his incredible team at The Swallows charity. Three years ago he told me he was organising a patient only conference, an incredible breakthrough I thought! He asked me along as a guest speaker, and my goodness what an incredible time I had! The entire day was full of fun and learning from international speakers, and plenty of time to chat to them afterwards. There were clowns and people playing instruments, I thought I had gone to the wrong place! The charities represented there were all local not nationals, given the opportunity to share their offer directly with patients.
As the first conference was so successful, last year involved a professional day followed by a patient day. Who else does that? A similar format to before but with patients and professionals freely engaged in listening and learning from each other. An incredibly relaxed environment, followed by a ‘meet the speakers’ dinner. If Carling did cancer conferences this is what they would look like! One of the most important things about conferences is meeting new people or catching up with old friends, and this one left plenty of time for that, although there was always something going on.
The importance of all parties involved in cancer care being in the same room can never be understated. We all want things to improve, and have different experiences, which when shared, can be so powerful. I view the problem of cancer, like any other business issue. Unless all parties involved, can work together you will never achieve a lasting solution. As far as I am concerned, people affected by cancer are the customers of healthcare providers. Without listening to customers there will be no business. Since my involvement in the cancer world I am absolutely stunned that major decisions are made with little or no consultation with patients.
Patients should be at the centre of all cancer-care work, though generally there is very little engagement. But we now have a platform online with social-media and more people are listening. Slowly but surely the old prescriptive ways are being overtaken by key patient led projects. I would put Chris and his charity and the heart of innovation, breaking through the negativity and red tape of giant healthcare organisations. These conferences are at the forefront of that work. They are refreshingly authentic, with no agenda other than for us all to learn from each other in a fun and relaxed way.
Who can argue with these guys, as they have already won The Queens Award For Voluntary Service, which is the equivalent of the MBE for volunteers! For me, the conferences are so valuable for meeting new people for my personal work and that of my charity. It is probably my favourite event of the year. I will be amongst the guest speakers again this year so it would be great to welcome you along to see what all the fuss is about. I can definitely promise that you won’t have experienced so much fun at a cancer conference!
Please check out the programme and book your tickets here.
Here is a video of highlights from last year, including asking the views of the audience!