by Alicia Rowell, Vice President
Saturday, June 4 was a special evening.
In Chicago that week many of the nation’s and world’s leading oncologists gathered for an enormous annual conference called ASCO—the American Society of Clinical Oncology. While there is some programming that is pan-cancer, the bulk of the conference allows oncologists to come together by specialty—such as melanoma—to learn the latest in research and treatment of their disease from the top oncologists in their field.
That week was the first time the ASCO conference was in-person since 2019, so it also served as a joyous reunion for researchers, doctors, and industry who were accustomed to seeing each other on a regular basis before the pandemic.
A group of melanoma oncologists decided that it was also the perfect time to honor AIM’s late president and founder, Valerie Guild, who passed away in 2020. The group organized an evening in her honor at the Ritz Carlton Chicago, and invited their fellow melanoma oncologists and industry friends to celebrate Val’s life and work in melanoma. Approximately 100 of the nation’s top melanoma researchers, clinicians, and industry representatives purchased a “ticket” to the event, and one extremely generous anonymous donor covered the cost of the entire party so that the proceeds from the evening could go to AIM at Melanoma—to fund research, as Val would have wanted.
Eight speakers—three remote on video and five in-person—spoke about Val and her work. Dr. John
Kirkwood (UPMC, Hillman Cancer Center) opened the remarks by saying that “her death represents a huge loss for our field, and her entry into the field happened for reasons she would never have chosen to experience: the affliction of one daughter with melanoma and the death of another.” Dr. Kirkwood
noted that among many of her successes and accomplishments, “her reign saw the advent of more than a dozen new agents and half a dozen adjuvant therapies.”
Dr. Grant McArthur (Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, Australia) lauded her “global vision for defeating the disease.” Dr. Sancy Leachman (Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU) explained how she “loved the way Val understood the business of getting melanoma research done. She knew instinctively, intellectually, and emotionally that in order to get the actual work done of melanoma research it was going to take money, and she knew that money was going to have to come from a diverse set of sources…all of us.”
Dr. Caroline Robert (Gustave Roussy, France) described Val this way: “She turned despair into hope;
bereavement into action; and self-commiseration into generosity. And for that we will never forget her.”
Dr. Sapna Patel (M.D. Anderson Cancer Center) noted that “when you think about it, a single patient advocate to have such global reach—a single person touching so many different efforts and committees—it’s remarkable. She remains a fabric of what we do.”
Dr. Thach-Giao Truong (Kaiser Permanente Northern California) was straightforward and heartfelt: “I feel many of the things I’ve ended up doing in melanoma I would not have been able to do without her.”
Val would have loved to have been there. Not to have basked in the glow of her celebration, as she was far too humble for something like that. But she would have loved to have seen so many of the world’s top melanoma researchers come together and commit to continuing what she always stressed was necessary: collaboration in research to end this disease.
Those who proposed the event would like it to be an annual occasion. We could not agree more. It would be a fitting continued tribute to a woman who worked so hard to see the end of this disease.
It was indeed a special evening.
PICTURED IN PHOTO AT TOP (APOLOGIES IF WE MISS YOU OR MIS-IDENTIFY YOU!):
1st row : Evan Lipson (Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center), Sunandana Chandra (Northwestern, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center), Thach-Giao Truong (Kaiser Permanente Northern California), Kara Schenk (Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center), Cynthia Chan (Genentech)
2nd row: Sapna Patel (MD Anderson Cancer Center), Yvonne Saenger (Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center), Lilit Karapetyan (Moffitt Cancer Center), Samantha Guild (AIM at Melanoma), Zeynep Eroglu (Moffitt Cancer Center), Melissa Wilson (St Luke’s University Cancer Center), Beth Buchbinder (Dana Farber Cancer Institute), Leslie Fecher (University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center), Helen Moon (Kaiser Permanente Southern California), Megan Schollenberger (Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center), Jeanne Hsu (Natera), Alicia Rowell (AIM at Melanoma)
3rd row: Jen Saam (Castle Biosciences), Caroline Nguyen (Genentech), Hillary Norris (Bristol Myers Squibb), Kim Margolin (St John’s Cancer Institute), Jan Zilisch (Iovance Biotherapeutics), Michael Atkins (Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center), Kari Kendra (Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center), Kevin Kim (California Pacific Medical Center), Isabella Glitza-Oliva (MD Anderson Cancer Center), Joshua Mammen (University of Nebraska Medical Center), Jean-Jacques Grob (Aix-Marseille University)
4th row: Douglas Johnson (Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center), Vicki Fish-Sidlow (Castle Biosciences), Reeny Hedgemond (Castle Biosciences), John Thompson (Fred Hutchison Cancer Center), Katy Tsai (UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center), Ryan Sullivan (Mass General Cancer Center), Suthee Rapisuwon (Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center), Michael Weichenthal (University of Kiel), Christoph Hoeller (Medical University of Vienna), Igor Puzanov (Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center), Antoni Ribas (UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center), Alexander Van Akooi (Melanoma Institute of Australia), Griffin Budde (Natera)
5th row: Chris Lao (University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center), Michael Postow (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center), Ruben Marques (Novartis), Bartosz Chmielowski (UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center), Ravi Amaravadi (U Penn Abramson Cancer Center), John Hyngstrom (University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute), Dan Hageman (Bristol Myers Squibb)