The Life Raft Group’s first GIST Day of Learning event was a big success. Partnering with Jonathan C. Trent, M.D., PhD and University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center, we were able to provide education and support for over 50 GISTers and caregivers.

GIST Day of Learning is a free one-day regional educational event. In addition to sharing hope and friendship, attendees can learn important facts about their cancer, prevailing treatment options, tests as indicators for treatment surveillance, and coping with dietary changes and side-effects of treatment. This event was sponsored by Amgen and in large part by Bayer.

Both old friends and new came from as far away as Texas and Illinois to attend our one day seminar. We had six wonderful speakers who gave extensive presentations on each of their areas of expertise.

Our host, Dr. Trent, is the Co-Director of the Musculoskeletal Center, Director of the Sarcoma Medical Research Program and professor of medicine at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. In addition to facilitating the meeting, Trent presented “GIST: The Basics, Overview of History, Biology and Treatments”.

Jerry Call, Science Director at the Life Raft Group and caregiver to his wife and GIST survivor Stephanie, presented on “Clinical Trial Explained and Explored”. Jerry developed a GIST-specific clinical trials database, and also oversees the Science Team and Patient Registry. Most importantly, Jerry helps GISTers navigate their care at crucial points in their GIST journey.

Elizabeth Fontao, M.S., P.A.-C., who works closely with Dr. Trent at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center to support sarcoma patients, presented for the “Managing Side-Effects” session.

Andrew E. Rosenberg, M.D., Professor of Pathology, Director of Bone and Soft Tissue Pathology and Director of Surgical Pathology at the University of Miami gave a talk on “Understanding Pathology and the Role of Mutations in GIST Treatment”. During his 27 years working in the pathology field, Dr. Rosenberg has published numerous research papers and has held the prestigious honor of serving as a professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass.

Alice Sulkowski, R.D., C.D.E., a member of the Life Raft Group and a GIST survivor since 2002, presented on “Nutrition”. She has practiced as a registered dietician for over 30 years. In addition to her hospital-based outpatient nutrition education, she has worked in medical oncology as a consultant. She currently works at Mountain States Health Alliance in Johnson City, Tennessee.

We would like to give a special thank you to Dr. Steven Rodgers, M.D., PhD for volunteering his time at the last minute to step in for Alan S. Livingstone, M.D. for the “Surgery and Other Options” session. Dr. Rodgers completed his fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and has served as an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center since 2006. Although Dr. Livingstone regrettably couldn’t join us, we would like to thank him for all his preparation for this meeting and for volunteering to speak as well.

We also want to acknowledge our sponsors Amgen and Bayer Pharmaceuticals for their generous support of the meeting. A special thank you must go to Rich Proctor of Bayer and Leslie Fields of Novartis for attending the meeting and showing support for our educational events.

We would also like to thank Udderly Smooth and Shoprite for their product donations.

Pictures from the event can be found on Life Raft Group’s Facebook page courtesy of our volunteer photographer Don Edgar of dl photography based in Miami, Fla. Don spent the whole day with us and his expertise is truly appreciated.