The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) is underway and many advocates in the community are in attendance. SABCS is a symposium like no other, providing state-of-the-art information on the experimental biology, etiology, prevention, diagnosis, and therapy of breast cancer and premalignant breast disease. The symposium attracts an international audience of medical professionals, researchers, academia, patient advocates and more. People from over 90 countries across the globe COME TOGETHER to learn and communicate about the latest in clinical, translational and basic research in breast cancer.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Well, something certainly wasn’t right Tuesday in San Antonio. Instead of coming together, the divisions in this community are wider and deeper than ever and it’s becoming more and more apparent as the days go by and it’s turning personal and ugly. When organizations and leaders, who are meant to help this community, participle in that division I wonder if we’ve arrived at a dangerous place.
Strange things were coming out of SABCS and it had only just begun. When the news started spreading about the banning of METUP‘s Medical Director, Dr. Kelly Shannahan, from one of the first educational breakout sessions, I had to wonder what the hell was going on. The session was on Advance Topics by Project LEAD, National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). This session was coincidentally a required session for Shanahan who is a recipient of the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation (ABCF) scholarship to help offset the costs of attendee’s travel and accommodations at the symposium. But upon arrival at the meeting, Shanahan was immediately taken aside by a board member of ABCF and told that Fran Visco, President of NBCC had “banned her” from attending the session. That same board member shared with Shanahan that Visco had accused Shanahan of sending her “death threats” and thus the reason for the ban. Shanahan denies ever making any “death threats” to Visco.
How is this possible? How can this happen? This is serious, not something you just throw around because you feel like it. What would make someone walk around saying those sorts of awful things about another well-known, highly revered, medical professional and metastatic breast cancer advocate? I don’t know, but it’s not the first rub or run in that members of the metastatic breast cancer community have had with Visco or NBCC. So, I have to ask, what do they have against METUP? In particular, with Dr. Shanahan.
I spoke with Shanahan and she says she had never met or even seen Visco prior to Tuesday. She had never been in the same room with her nor had she made any such threats. After the session, during lunch, Shanahan found Visco and attempted to introduce herself and shake her hand, but Visco turned her head and ignored her. Again, Shanahan said “Hi, I’m Kelly Shanahan. We’ve never met, but I thought you’d like to meet the woman you banned from the session today.” Shanahan even applauded the work Visco was part of thanks to the Department of Defense (DOD) funding for breast cancer research all these years. Visco laudered her own efforts and said “I’m still doing it.” Shanahan said, “I want to learn and spread information that I hear during really great talks like the one I was denied admission to.” Visco then turned her back to her and that was it, according to Shanahan.
Those of us in advocacy circles often say #DeadBy2020. Is this what Visco perceived as a “death threat”? A hashtag? I mean, come on, the community has been using that play on the hashtag for years now in an attempt to point out the glaring and all too obvious problem with Deadline2020 that continues to be ignored by NBCC. They do nothing for those who are dying of metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Their focus remains on prevention of metastasis. Where does that leave the growing community of women (and men) who are still dying from this disease? It leaves them dead. That’s no threat. That’s the truth.
Also, 2018 is upon us. How’s that deadline looking Ms. Visco? The National Cancer Institute estimates that by 2030 the number of people being diagnosed with breast cancer will have doubled and anyone who can math knows that the number of people who end up having MBC will increase right along with it. But who will help them?
Is This What It’s Come To?
What is happening when someone can be accused of such an awful and criminal act without proof? How can someone arbitrarily make such an egregious accusation about someone and why would they? It’s slander and it’s misdirected and wrong. Are these the lengths NBCC will go to prevent someone (who speaks up for MBC and it’s community) from attending a session at a symposium? Is “banning” fellow advocates and attendees from listening to critical information being shared at SABCS now a tool? Some sort of punishment? Who will be next?
Shanahan isn’t the first to be on the receiving end of perplexing behavior from an NBCC (read Visco). You may remember a spotlight we shared last year of our good friend and fellow metastatic breast cancer patient and advocate, Col. Mac Holmes. Holmes was accepted into Project LEAD by NBCC and just as he was preparing to attend he received a notorious “uninvited” letter indicating that he was no longer welcome in the project and that his and his wife’s outspokenness regarding MBC advocacy (i.e. their affiliation with METUP) made them disagreeable and unsuitable for the program. A colonel mind you. One of our veterans. Ousted. Just like that.
There are other stories too. Like the time Jennie Grimes, founder of METUP, was told by Fran that their board members “care more about their daughters’ futures rather than their own.” Jennie points out what a privileged place they reside saying, “A luxurious place to sit and elicit such a response, as it means that you were gifted the opportunity to have children, and that you will live long enough to see them grow up and possibly benefit from it.” Read more in Jennie’s blog, and specifically her post titled A Voice about her experience and what happened when she attended the Artemis Project meeting in Napa, California. Note: even Jennie’s blog mentions that people jokingly refer to Deadline2020 as #DeadBy2020, it’s not new.
All of this has left me wondering what the hell is going on over at NBCC and what is wrong with Fran Visco?
Day 1 of the 5-day San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is in the bag and day 2 is upon us. What could possibly go wrong? I mean…
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