The opening session at the 42nd Annual Congress in Denver, CO, was a lively one, featuring a talk from ONS President Susan Schneider, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, recognition of the 2017 ONS award recipients, and a discussion from ONS Foundation President Deborah K. Walker, DNP, FNP-BC, NP-C, AOCN®, who talked about the Foundation’s goal of raising $130,000 at Congress, with $80,000 in donations already in the books. Schneider also commented that the 2017 Annual Congress has more than 4,000 attendees, which is the most the meeting has seen in a decade.

The keynote speaker, Sung Poblete, RN, PhD, president and chief executive officer of Stand Up to Cancer, focused on immunotherapy and how oncology nurses can accelerate the use of these “extraordinary treatments,” Schneider said.

“It is nurses who unfailingly keep patients first,” Poblete said. “The passion nurses share for patients connects all of us in this room. I know that there are days we all wish we went into real estate instead, but we know that our calling is so much greater.”

She noted that it is important to break down silos and accelerate new treatments from the laboratory to the patient. “As nurses, we are closest to patients. We listen, we advise, we advocate, we champion, and we lead.”

Poblete discussed advancements made through immunotherapy, with this promising therapy dating back more than 100 years. She said that the hope is that the number of indications for immunotherapy will continue to grow exponentially. And although immunotherapy has offered new options for patients when other treatments have failed, it still has room for improvement. Serious adverse events (AEs), such as decreased blood pressure, kidney failure, and the development of autoimmune disorders, are associated with this treatment. It is also unknown why some patients respond to immunotherapies, whereas others do not. “Because of these unknowns, nurses must keep up with latest research,” Poblete noted.

She went on to quote the famous line from Spider-Man, “With great power, comes great responsibility. And all of your patients think of you as the everyday superheroes.” She said it is up to nurses to educate themselves, peers, and patients, because nurses are the steady heartbeat of care.

“Immunotherapy is poised to be one of the greatest advances of our time,” she concluded before welcoming a special guest to tell his story. David Gobin, a retired police officer from Baltimore, MD, was diagnosed with late-stage non-small cell lung cancer and given three months to live. Nine years later, and after many failed treatments, including chemotherapy, clinical trials, surgery, and radiation, Gobin is a survivor thanks to immunotherapy.

Prior to participating in a phase I trial for nivolumab—as the 96th person in the world to receive the drug—“nothing was working and [it] did nothing for the tumor, but [treatment] was keeping me alive,” he said. When he was offered the chance for the nivolumab clinical trial, he was cautioned that the researchers were unsure if the drug would do anything for him. Now he says, “I might be part of a cure.”

Gobin gave guidance to the audience, noting that he often had his oncology nurse translate” what the oncologist had explained to him. “If you need something, you go to a nurse; you do not go to a doctor,” he said, to which the crowd responded with a large bout of laughter.

“By enrolling in the phase I clinical trial, you made a unique contribution to society,” Poblete acknowledged.

She asked Gobin what advice he would give to oncology nurses when caring for patients. Give a list of AEs, and make sure your patients tell you what is going on, he advised. Also, patients need help, guidance, and lifeline support. He also stressed the importance of taking care of the caregivers. “They are so important,” he said. “Sometimes it is worse for them than it is for the patient.

“Cancer has given me more than it took from me. I am sitting here,” he concluded, prompting a standing ovation from the audience.

Poblete concluded by citing Stand Up to Cancer’s goal to turn every patient with cancer into a survivor.

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