Canadian Breast Cancer Symposium: We Did It!

Two years ago, MJ and I were sitting at the Canadian Breast Cancer Symposium, a biannual meeting focused on breast cancer management, listening and Tweeting about the latest research on CDK4 inhibitors when a patient tweeted back, “Where are the patients at the Symposium?” A great question and one that we took to heart.

Past symposiums brought together medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, general practitioners, nurses and other health care providers to hear from and interact with Canada’s leading clinician scientists. However, patients and their families had not yet been involved.

MJ seized the moment and approached Dr. Sunil Verma about whether this was something UofT or the chairs of the Symposium would consider. He was immediately on board, along with his co-chair Dr. Jamie Escallon, recognizing the importance of including patients’ perspectives in the conversation and the success of patient participation at other conferences.

Fast forward two years and Rethink, together with the help of Heather Douglas from Metastatic Breast Cancer Advocacy Canada, Jenn Gordon from the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, and our generous sponsors Eli Lily and Novartis we created the inaugural patient program at the 2019 Canadian Breast Cancer Symposium. We did it!

Canadian Breast Cancer Symposium

Our vision was to empower patients to learn about new treatments, clinical trials and research so they can feel confident in their own treatment decisions. We recruited 10 patient advocates from across Canada who were poised, thoughtful, engaging, charismatic and DRIVEN to make their presence known and their voices heard within the medical community. Here are some of the highlights from the two days:


We can never say too much about our patient community – the smart, strong and supportive women in our network. Being at the Symposium together, soaking up the information and bringing a new perspective too, also created an opportunity to connect more deeply and build an even stronger sense of community

Patient Voices

Alongside MJ, Vesna a member of our Metastatic Breast Cancer Advisory Board, had the opportunity to be on a panel about what’s needed in the future of breast cancer care. When Vesna spoke, the energy in the room changed. Doctors put their phones down and their computers away and tuned in. You could hear a pin drop. You could see the emotional impact in the room. It was abundantly clear that bringing the human element to the Symposium is so important.

Rethink’s Shared Decision-Making Workshop

The Symposium concluded on Friday afternoon with a workshop that brought together patients and oncologists. The group discussed the value of collaboration between patients and health care professionals in treatment decisions (for everyone!) and ways to help make it happen in clinic more often. (More on this soon.)  

So, the way we see it, patient inclusion at the Canadian Breast Cancer Symposium is only the beginning. It’s our plan to make sure patients’ voices and values are not only included but an integral part of any discussion about breast cancer. Thank you to everyone who made this happen – we did it!  

Read more on how we think patients could be better supported, so they feel empowered and confident in their treatment and care plan.

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