The original digital cancer conference, Global Virtual Cancer Conference by GRYT Health, occurred for the third year this past November, featuring events, workshops and speakers for the entire cancer community spectrum.
GRYT Health held its third annual Global Virtual Cancer Conference (GVCC) Nov. 11–13, 2021. The free event offered informative sessions, resources, clinical trial information and social opportunities for over 2,000 cancer thrivers, caregivers, health care professionals, advocates and others in the greater cancer community. Participants logged in from around the United States as well as the UK and Canada, with more than 40 countries represented overall.
As an online conference, the GVCC is unique in that it has been fully virtual since its inaugural edition in 2019. This format was inspired by the challenges faced by individuals in active cancer treatment. When someone is in the throes of treatment, travel can be complicated and cost prohibitive. The GVCC was designed as a free online event from the outset to provide a place for everyone in the cancer community to come together no matter their location, treatment status or financial situation.
“We want people all over the world to come. We want people of all cancer types and stages, demographics—no matter where you are in your experience, you deserve this information and this opportunity to connect to people,” said GRYT Health program director Lauren Lastauskas.
When the first GVCC took place in 2019, the idea of an exclusively online cancer conference was new and exciting, Lastauskas shares, and the vast majority of GVCC attendees that year had never attended a virtual conference before. Over time, GVCC organizers have taken opportunities to make each edition even better than the last. For 2021, GRYT Health ran the conference on its own proprietary platform with customized features tailored to the specific needs and themes of a cancer conference.
In addition to a wealth of educational sessions and panels, the conference platform featured a live message board with specific discussion topics, as well as virtual exhibitor booths spotlighting 50 organizations providing ongoing support, information and programming for the cancer community. The GVCC’s additional interactive sessions invited participants to watercolor, practice yoga and enjoy a guided deep relaxation exercise.
Lastauskas says that as the program director, her decisions on topics to cover at the GVCC come from high demand seen at GRYT Health programming and member meetups. Over the course of the year, she actively listens to the community so that GRYT Health can deliver on the issues that matter most.
In this vein, the GVCC covered topics such as caring for caregivers, clinical trials, cancer metastasis, advocacy, relationship dynamics and long-term side effects. Additional areas of focus included addressing health inequities in clinical trials and how to be a better ally for the community through cultural competency.
In Saturday’s keynote presentation, “Changing the Face of Cancer, Together,” former NFL linebacker and patient advocate Chris Draft discussed advocacy and how his late wife Keasha’s experience with lung cancer inspired him to serve the community through Team Draft, a national campaign to change the face of lung cancer.
Draft emphasized that survivorship advocacy has often been overshadowed, with prevention messaging dominating the lung cancer space. “The most important fact about lung cancer is that anyone can get lung cancer,” Draft said, noting that Keasha had been in great health leading up to her diagnosis. He encouraged attendees to advocate for themselves, to be honest about what they are experiencing and to fight for early detection and screening, better treatments, research and survivorship support.
As GRYT Health’s flagship event, the GVCC is Lastauskas’ favorite part of work each year. Diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 23 herself, Lastauskas shares that she values the inherent comfort and trust among GRYT Health and the cancer community it serves. GRYT Health staff is primarily composed of cancer thrivers and caregivers, which enables the team to “sit with you in the mud, meet you where you’re at in your experience and help you get to where you want to go,” she says. “We put our all into this work. We’re trying to make the cancer experience better for people, and give them what we didn’t have when we went through it.”
GRYT Health provides educational, social and advocacy opportunities year-round to empower individuals to find and use their voice as members of the cancer community. In the GVCC’s closing session, Lastauskas encouraged attendees to join GRYT Health’s community and ongoing programming. “We pride ourselves on creating comfortable spaces for uncomfortable conversations,” she said.
Meghan McCallum is a freelance writer and French to English translator. Since being diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer at age 32, Meghan has taken an active role in the cancer community to share stories and resources. She strives to support conversations around cancer and empower others to advocate for their own health and well-being.