By Linda Borgstede


In November, the Judy Nicholson Kidney Cancer Foundation brought its first annual in-person, regional symposium to Atlanta, GA, with the title, “Celebrating Hope.” 


By definition, a symposium is a presentation of the newest information and research – on kidney cancer, in this instance.  The fact that 16 doctors and associates were there to give reports and answer questions should itself be a cause for hope for kidney cancer patients and their caregivers and families. 


Presentations began early the morning of November 7 under the lighted letters “H.O.P. E.” on the stage of the Emory Conference Center. Great bubbles of color at the front of the room added to the cheerful environment.  It was to be a positive day with reports in both the areas of research and in treatment.  The only exception to the medical presenters was one lay person with experience in the field of clinical trials.  


Conversations bubbled outside the auditorium during breaks for refreshments. At lunch, attendees took the opportunity to sit next to the medical professionals. For many, these conversations over food gave them more in-depth information and built new relationships.


One interesting result of this in-person symposium was reported by the physicians themselves.  Many of the hospitals and research centers represented offer certain treatments and care.  But such centers don’t offer every aspect.  The symposium did cover the gamut.  Doctors here got new information from the presentations and the break-time conversations.   As one said: “(In my workplace), I don’t get to see this.”


Linda Anderson, spokesperson for the Judy Nicholson Kidney Cancer Foundation, said the response from the doctors in the exit poll was very positive.  They were impressed with the line-up of presenters and topics covered. 


The program of presenters was, by any definition, exceptional.  There were practicing physicians, physicians in the field of research, professors, specialists in patient care.  The list of institutions represented: University of Miami, UF Health, Emory U Department of Urology, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Mayo Clinic, U of Pennsylvania, Moffitt Cancer Center, National Cancer Institute, and the U of Florida.  


“We know we can do this,” Anderson said.  “The doctors could see the difference between virtual events and an in-person symposium.  Many said they were on board for future such in-person events.  And the Emory Convention Center wants us to come back.”


There were moments of inspiration, moments of humor and lots of information to absorb, or at least take note of.  


Hans Hammer, MD, PhD from UT Southwestern Medical Center, was described in the program: “His primary interest is to develop novel effective Immunotherapies for patients with genitourinary cancers.”  He is recognized internationally as a key opinion leader in the development of kidney cancer therapies.


On this day, his presentation was detailed and far reaching.  He drew questions even from other physicians in the audience.  


A note of humor came with the next presenter, Ricardo Paz-Fumagalli, MD from Mayor Clinic, who led his message on the treatment of small kidney cancers with: “I’m going to bring down the intellectual level a bit.”


Dr. Viraj Master, MD. PhD, FACS, a recognized national expert in the surgical treatment of complex kidney cancer, brought smiles to many faces with his statement: “People ask ‘Is nephrectomy (kidney removal) surgery dangerous?’  and they are often told ‘yes.’  That answer is probably coming from a non-surgeon!  I’m a surgeon and my answer would be different.”


Another message of Hope came from the cheerful presence of Peggy Zuckerman, who calls herself an “expert patient.”


Near the back of the auditorium on the isle was a man in faithful attendance all day.  He took copious notes and kept to his own thoughts most of the time.  In fact, he is a caregiver attending to learn as much as possible in the pursuit of help for his wife, who is a kidney cancer patient.  He related their travels from Illinois to Florida to St. Louis for her ongoing treatments.  On this day, he is alone here in Atlanta for the information he can get from this symposium.


Mary Rye calls herself a “cancer Warrior.”  She said she developed her own philosophy soon after her diagnosis in 2017.  That was, she said, “to be my own advocate.  To question, follow through and never lose hope.  You should never stop fighting for your own health. “Her approach, she said, bring hope.


Like most patients, she found it hard to get information.  Her urologist’s help was limited, so she insisted that she see an oncologist, if even for one visit.  “I did get information there.”


So, take Mary’s experience and advise, and compare how much she learned from one doctor to the opportunity to hear a whole day’s worth of doctors and researchers on exactly the cancer that you have.  


The symposium, according to Mary, was “truly an education.”


Mary is a professional photographer with her business, Mary Rye Photography in Indiana.


“I was supposed to be taking pictures,” she said, “but I often had to put down my camera just to listen carefully.  The symposium addressed so many things I had questions on and listening got me answers.”  \


One of the big words in cancer care is “palliative” which has fearful connotations to many.  Matthew Murphy, MD from Moffitt Cancer Center works in a support care medicine program.  He sees the patients under treatment and hears their questions.


Dr. Murphy’s research efforts are focused on quality improvement processes for delivering consultative palliative care.


“Palliative care works in tandem with cancer treatment,” he said.  “The palliative doctor works with the treatment doctor.  This is not end- of- life treatment but the goal is the patient’s comfort.”


As Dr. Jaime Merchan, MD, MMSc, from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, said in concluding his presentation: “There is hope.”


This symposium is the first regional symposium that the Judy Nicholson Kidney Cancer Foundation has done with out a co-host.  There will be a new destination for Regional 2023 and several “co-host” symposiums coming too!