The Gastric Cancer Summit to the International Gastric Cancer Congress:  

And Two Years In-Between

On March 9, 2022, I was invited to speak at the International Gastric Cancer Congress (IGCC) in Houston, which was hosted by MD Anderson. The theme was The Evolution of Gastric Cancer Science; The Future of Gastric Cancer Treatment. This was my first in-person speaking engagement in 2 years and our 1st time displaying our new re-designed booth.

Yes, I was extremely nervous but at the same time, I was very excited. However difficult the pandemic has and had been, it also gave us the grace and time to successfully turn a young nonprofit to the leading stomach cancer patient advocacy organization in the USA. And I was incredibly proud to show the gastric cancer community our strength and devotion to the cause…

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”- Harriet Tubman, Humanitarian

I last spoke… (in person)

On March 5, 2020 at the Gastric Cancer Summit at Stanford on “What Can Patient Advocacy Groups do to Impact Health Policy? “ At the end of the conference, we toasted and vowed to make gastric cancer screening, research and treatment a priority. I was the only presenter at the conference who didn’t have an MD or PhD next to my name, but I had the same respect and regards as everyone else. Then a week later the entire world shut down. For two years, I held onto an amazing memory of what it was like to see smiles and make in-person promises to each other.

Then after two years of Safer at Home, I stepped onto a commercial airplane and safely landed in Houston, Texas. When the gate opens, I was suddenly consumed of many emotions; anger, sadness, anxiety, happiness. I knew I wasn’t alone. I had the spirt and the support of all those who had passed from stomach cancer in my heart. I was there to tell their story… I was there to tell my story. I was there to tell of the brokenness we experience when someone you love is being told they have one of the world’s most deadliest cancer.

I met my volunteers, Irasema Partida and June Sweat, at the hotel. Irasema, a 2-time stomach cancer survivor and most recently a breast cancer survivor, with no genetic predisposition and under 40 years old, was there to help with the booth. June, a young mother, who lost her only child at 17 years old to stomach cancer, was also there to share her story and seek expertise to develop a pediatric lab for children under 18 years old with no genetic predisposition. It was our first-time meeting June in person, but our tragic mutual bond connected us and we felt like family.

Aki Smith and June Sweat

The IGCC was both an in-person conference and a virtual one. I made the decision to be in-person because I needed the “human” interaction. While I’ve done a lot virtually these past two years, I allow myself to be vulnerable in-person. I am a patient advocate and the Founder of Hope for Stomach Cancer. I need the collaboration with the medical community if we are ever going to bridge the gap between research and patient care. But the medical community needs us too. Patients and caregivers are the very heart of the stomach cancer community.

If you haven’t had a chance, watch the presentation:

Organization Overview: Hope for Stomach Cancer By Aki Smith