11 years ago, I went to Chicago on a Monday afternoon to help produce a webcast after the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting (ASCO). I met one doctor who would moderate, spoke to one sales rep from the pharma company and never went near the exhibit hall. So I can truly say that this was my first “real” ASCO experience and there are so many words I want to use to describe it, but I don’t know where to start.
I am sure that many ASCO veterans would say that crowds were not near the pre-pandemic level; but I can tell you that there were times I felt lost in a sea of people. Hallways and walkways packed with people, filled tables with meetings, food lines wrapped around corners and many times I walked in a zig-zag as I made my way around with the crowds moving in different directions. One thing that happened the most – avoiding (or sometimes just watching) the people hugging and shaking hands with old friends and colleagues they hadn’t seen in years. There were many people wearing green buttons that said, “Handshakes And Hugs” and they really took that to heart. The most common phrase of the weekend was not “FDA approved”… but, “I am so glad to see you again”.
One thing that was not overlooked in this return to live events was the size and intricacies of the booths. Yes, some were very standard…table, chairs, monitor, back drop; very basic. But some of them may have had their own zip code! They were so elaborate with monitor cutouts, multi-color graphics and 8-foot walls, and couches! I have been to many conferences and some companies had the “double booth” so they can have more space; but nothing compares to plush carpets, diagramed walkways with brand facts and overhang logos that glistened in the hall spotlights. Oh yeah…and food!! Cinnamon rolls, apple crisps, mini melts, pizza bagels, coffee bars with lattes and so much more. It was like a super advanced version of the samples at Costco just wrapped in cups and plates with brand logos. You can tell that these booths were three years in the making, and they spared no expense.
Don’t get me wrong, there were also many great conversations and scientific discussions taking place and those should not be overshadowed by food, booths and greetings. This is one of the great clinical conferences of the industry and many who were there left with more knowledge and insight than when they came. While I personally was not involved in them, you can still get the sense that industry was here to learn and share and a lot of that was accomplished. I was able to sit in on the Healio HemOnc Today editorial board meeting and listen as physician thought leaders discussed and debated topics for publication as well as what is next in the industry, and it was fascinating to hear what was most important. The topics ranged from the workforce to the pandemic affects as well as what cancer treatment is like for patients with COVID. I could share more but I wouldn’t want to take away from the joy you will get when you read about them in HemOnc Today.
I may have spent just under 48 hours in total in Chicago, but I got a great sense of how important this conference is in the lives of all who were there. It was partially the joy of being back to live meetings and not seeing your colleagues in a tiny little Zoom box; but this is an experience for many that shapes what happens in the next 6-12 months. I am so looking forward to being there next year; and I am going in early!
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