A few weeks ago I was invited to meet with some of the team at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) about melanoma awareness and how they can better serve the melanoma community. This sounds like a first of it’s kind meeting between a pharmaceutical company and patients. I jumped at the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia (and escape the heat and last week of school mom duties for a few days.) I got to hang out with some of the friends I’ve made through my online support group, rub elbows a bit with GSK employees, and meet representatives for four melanoma non-profits.
Bloggers (L-R): T.J. Sharpe, Anna (our GSK organizer), Steve Martin, Jen Martin, Erin Youngerberg, Rich McDonald and me!
This was my first trip ever flying by my lonesome! I’m a real grown-up now! I arrived in Philly Sunday evening and was picked up at the airport by my sweet friend Ashli. She and her sister took us (and generously allowed some of the melanoma blogger crowd to come along) to the original Tony Luke’s for must-try-while-in-Philly pork sandwiches and cheese steak. Not being a huge meat fan, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed both! I can’t believe we forgot to take photos of ourselves! Boo hiss.
My first cheese steak! (I made it though about a third of this!)
Monday morning, we headed to GlaxoSmithKline for the Melanoma Summit. I walked over with Jen and Steve. Jen is much better at documenting life through photos, so she suggested we take photos outside the beautiful building. Apparently we looked suspicious because a security guard came outside to welcome us with a bit of harassment about why we were taking photos. We are TROUBLE, I tell you!
They knew I was trouble BEFORE I walked in!
Once inside, we had to be checked by security and have badges made with our pretty pixeled faces on them. We met up and had a lovely lunch with some of the GSK staff. It was nice to informally chat and get to know one another before we headed into the more formal meeting.
Hanging out before lunch!
We then went into our more formal meeting time. I was so excited to see an additional couple friends joining us by webcam! I may have made a fool of myself right away waving and yelling hello to them. 🙂 We began with introductions of each person and our relationship with melanoma. We listened to some talks by GSK doctors on their philosophy of oncology research and the newest and exciting area of genetic research and treatments. (I am hoping to post more about this based on my tweets and resources we were given- stay tuned!) Next was a panel discussion about how best to effectively communicate and educate patients and the public about melanoma and sun safety. It was very interesting and encouraging to hear the different perspectives and passions within the melanoma community! It was also amazing to be in a room of people with passion, energy, and HOPE to give back to the melanoma cause and help prevent others from our nightmare!
Caught during the meeting asking Rich to decode an acronym for me!
I did have one moment when I was “called on” during our discussion time where I blanked and fumbled for words, but overall, I felt that I communicated and kept up well. I still struggle with some aphasia and memory issues after brain radiation and meningitis. I’d been quite worried about following the discussion, live tweeting AND participating in this panel without my head exploding, but I ended up being pleased and proud at my ability to keep up. Thank God for answered prayers and thank you to those who were praying for my neurons and nerves! After the meeting, we went on a tour of the AMAZING GSK facility. The inside of the building was far-out. Glass interior walls, all open-concept work areas and large colorful cubbies for people to store their personal things. It was all clean and shiny and beautiful. It’s designed to be eco-friendly and was just an amazing space to experience.
Group photo of all involved with the Summit!
After the tour, a few of us headed to dinner together! So fun! I can’t tell you how nice it is to finally meet some of these people I have shared my heart and life with through the highs and lows of melanoma. Together we have celebrated good scans and mourned side effects and bad news. We’ve added new warriors and lost friends. It was SO good to talk in person and acknowledge the kindredship we have online is a real thing.
Dinner with now “real life” friends!
On Tuesday, we took our time getting out of the hotel. Jen, Steve and I had build a day into our trip for touristing! We headed to Redding Terminal Market for lunch and exploration. We then went and explored the Independence Hall area. I geeked out about the sites and shared WAY too much with Jen and Steve about the musical 1776, a yearly movie tradition, nay obsession, in the Douglas family. We got photos of the Liberty Bell, poked around Carpenter’s Hall, visited Ben Franklin’s grave and found touristy shops to grab some souvenirs for our kiddos. And of course some fabulous selfies of Jen, the selfie queen! We then headed to the airport for a bittersweet goodbye. I was ready to be home with my family, but I realized the importance and authenticity of the relationships I have built in my online support group. It was SO good to meet in person and realize that connection. Special thanks to the Martin’s for allowing me to tag along and never making me feel like the third wheel on the trip! Jen, thanks for letting me steal all your photos! I miss you all already and can’t wait until we meet again.
Sad Jen and I parting ways headed home to Texas and Arizona!
*GSK reimbursed my travel and expenses to attend the GSK Melanoma Summit, however, I was not asked to promote GSK or its medicines.
This post is voluntary, represents my own views and I was not paid to write it.