The Australia New Zealand Sarcoma Association annual scientific meeting was held in Canberra on 11th and 12th of October, bringing together a collection of the most stellar medical and scientific minds, all working toward a cure for sarcoma.
The conference showcased the ground breaking developments in research which will and in some cases are, of benefit to sarcoma patients globally, thus providing untold hope for the future.
It was an enormous privilege for our own Mitchell Rice-Brading to open the conference, with a passionate and heartfelt speech which was central to his own experiences of losing his younger brother Cooper, to sarcoma.
My name is Mitchell Rice-Brading, and I am the brother of the young man whose name our Foundation proudly bears.
I would like to begin today by extending my deepest gratitude to ANZSA, and in particular, Dr Denise Caruso, for having me speak this morning, and I would like to impress the great privilege that I personally attach to the opportunity.
I’d also like to acknowledge the work that goes into both organising an event of this magnitude, and to making the effort to attend. As a recently graduated uni student, I am currently working 20 hours a week as a bartender. I have just returned from the World Cup in Japan, and has another trip planned to Thailand at the end of the month, I can empathise with all of you in the room. We’ve all made sacrifices to be here today.
On a more serious note, my family and I find ourselves as incidental members of the greater sarcoma community. It was unplanned, and unexpected. Unlike us, most of you in this room have chosen to devote your time working to improve the plight of those touched by a sarcoma diagnosis. We are humbled by the selflessness of choosing such a career path.
We have come to realise, that with the heartache and devastation that is a sarcoma diagnosis, it has also become the driving force for what ultimately brings us here today, motivated to instigate critical and positive change.
The gravity of losing my brother to this cancer is something I find difficult to articulate. I can never see a day when the senseless loss of Cooper’s life will be something I can rationalise. Tragically, my brother became one of the many real faces of sarcoma, and now I am all too aware of what sarcoma represents, and why conferences such as this, are yet another crucial step forward.
Because, for all the scientific complexities, there is one unavoidable constant that follows a sarcoma diagnosis – pure devastation.
Walking the road beside Cooper, I felt helpless. Sleepless nights pondering the future; The ever- present guilt because I was not the one afflicted; and the unwavering desire to say and do the right things to provide comfort, but ultimately feeling like nothing was ever enough.
And then there was the soul-crushing final act, helplessly witnessing the brother I grew up with, regress into a mere shell of his larger than life self, when treatment options were exhausted. Sadly, this an all too regular outcome for young sarcoma patients.
Nonetheless, my family were left with a choice: Sit on our hands and do nothing, or perpetuate Cooper’s memory and his vision, by joining with the remarkable group before me, and make a contribution no matter how small.
It is of note that as recently as three and a half years ago, when Cooper was first diagnosed with osteosarcoma, treatment options were severely limited. This, of course, was no reflection on his stellar medical team – it is simply the way it was.
Similarly, a body of up to date, reliable, and user friendly information for patients and their families proved impossible to source. In our family, and I suspect in others, we introduced one policy: No Internet. The information that presented itself after one google search was astoundingly outdated, and generally soul-crushing for a recently diagnosed 17 year old boy.
Compounding this, was the fact adolescent patients were, and are, routinely treated in adult facilities, some barely past the age of 14. I dare say it won’t shock you to know, the needs of a teenage boy are vastly different to those of a 70 year old man.
Just over three years later, and the positive change is palpable. The emergence of future adolescent sarcoma centres, such as the one proposed for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse; dedicated sarcoma nurses helping patients through the medical minefield; imminent clinical trials for a number of sarcoma sub-types; cutting edge genomic sequencing programmes and trials; peer reviewed studies published in significant medical journals – the list goes on…
This, together with the highly credible and relevant information available on the new ANZSA website, has indeed removed a lot of angst out of those first weeks post-diagnosis. The change is visible and there for all of us to see, and is largely attributed to the persistent work of a number of those in the room today.
We are truly privileged to be working with some of the most distinguished clinicians and scientific researchers in this field. Then there are those who are driven by tragedy, who work tirelessly for change, and have created the most outstanding legacies to the loved ones they have lost, through fundraising and awareness campaigns.
I look around this room, and it is difficult not to be humbled and somewhat moved. You inspire us as the relative new kids on the block, to adopt the patience, resilience and determination you have all shown over many years. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will sarcoma be cured in a day, and it is these qualities in each of us, which will ultimately lead to critical advancements.
I don’t necessarily have what it takes to be a medical oncologist, nor have the deep biological knowledge required for meaningful research. But all of us in the room today are fighting sarcoma as a team, and all players in a team have a role. At the Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation, our role is clear: to assist in facilitating your work, and to support you in future initiatives. And when we look at the progress we’ve already made, it is simply difficult not to be inspired, and to push through on the difficult days.
From all of us at CRBF, we extend our deepest gratitude to each of you for the outstanding work you continue to accomplish in this field, and for openly accepting us as a small part of this stellar team.
All of us here today are aspiring to make sarcoma history, and we’re not giving in.