Storytelling Sessions at ASTRO Annual Meeting

The Art of Storytelling in Six #ASTRO20 Sessions

“One of the most impactful ways that we can learn from and connect with one another is through sharing our stories,” wrote Jenna Kahn, MD, in a September 15 call for stories on the ROhub. “Stories, whether good, bad, or memorable, are all worth telling.”

This year's Annual Meeting featured six virtual Storytelling sessions where ASTRO members and experts shared their deeply personal experiences through the art of storytelling. Each Storytelling session is available on the meeting platform through November 30. Four additional, powerful stories gleaned from submissions to the ROhub are shared at

Storytelling 01, Global and Domestic Prostate Cancer Disparities: Biology, Social Determinants, and Other Factors, Saturday, October 24

Christina Hunter-Chapman, MD, opened this session stating, “I want to take this time to acknowledge indigenous populations everywhere, especially in America.” The discussion centered around the construct of biological race and how it is defined, including biologic determinants of cancer outcomes. A slide presentation showed how disparities in health, in general, are fundamentally a problem of social influences, including a fascinating example of what happens when artificial intelligence data sets are made up primarily of white, male faces.

Storytelling 02 - A Stitch in Time Saves Nine, Sunday, October 25

Vikram Manoor Maiya, MD, spoke about radiation treatment protocols during COVID-19 at a multi-specialty, 255-bed hospital in India. Dr. Maiya outlined the steps taken by consulting physicians and other providers in the care of patients, calling the patients’ protocols “the most important part of the story.” After outlining the implementation of precautions, Dr. Maiya recounted the story of the cancer patient who inspired the session’s title, “A stitch in time saves nine.” The hospital staff successfully treated the patient, who presented negative COVID-19 but eventually tested positive, using the protocols outlined to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.

Storytelling 03 - COVID-19 Session, Sunday, October 25

Moderated by Jenna Kahn, MD, and Erqi Pollom, MD, this session reviewed the effects of COVID-19 on education for medical students and residents. As on-site medical student clerkships, which help expose the field of radiation oncology, were suspended, OHSU and Stanford launched the first radiation oncology virtual clerkships. This story included video testimonials of faculty and residents who participated in those clerkships. Highlights included ROVER ― the Rad Onc Virtual Education Rotation ― and lessons learned from a community-based oncology practice, including inspiring photos.

Storytelling 04 - Radiation Oncology in the Time of COVID, Tuesday, October 27

In this session, Lisa Kachnic, MD, FASTRO, narrated a first person account of the New York City-Columbia experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with a task force to develop safety standards, she put in place policies that addressed staff shelter-in-place and adapting to remote work. In photographs, she documented scenes of the USNS Comfort sailing into New York harbor, staff Zoom calls, and the desolate streets of the city: “Everywhere was empty, except at our hospital.” Zoom, she said, provides an opportunity for meaningful mentorship. “We are stronger together.” Louis Potters, MD, FASTRO, who has provided voluminous reports from the frontlines of New York City, and Ramesh Rengan, MD, FASTRO, joined Dr. Kachnic in this session to share their own experiences.

Storytelling 05 - Overcoming Barriers to Radiation Oncology Access in Low-Resource Environments, Tuesday, October 27

This session explored providing high quality radiation oncology care to low-resource communities in the United States. Co-moderator Malcolm Mattes, MD, stated, “Lower socioeconomic status is associated with disproportionately higher cancer death rates, regardless of demographic factors.” Numerous presenters spoke on the challenges and resources for operating safety-net facilities. Resources include leveraging partnerships with academic centers, providing exposure during medical training on disparities in care. Benefits to the hospital include access to best practices and the ability to provide specialized, multi-specialty care. Philanthropy and other sources of financial support, such as charity care dollars, as Bruce Haffty, MD, FASTRO, illustrated, can transform safety-net hospitals. “Patients face numerous barriers to receipt of optimal cancer care,” said Nitin Ohri, MD, “and systematic evaluation of our patients’ treatment courses, perceptions and outcomes can reveal opportunities to improve cancer care delivery.”

Storytelling 06 - ASTRO's COVID-19 Survey Results, Wednesday, October 28

David Louis Schwartz, MD, a radiation oncology specialist in Germantown, Tennessee, told “a story about a story,” narrating the creation of a COVID-19 community testing site and its intersection with the role of radiation oncologists in health care. In mid-March, Dr. Schwartz’s colleague, Daniel Wakefield, MD, chief resident at the University of Tennessee Heath Science Center, emailed bullet points of his research on COVID-19 awareness and preparedness to ASTRO President Thomas Eichler, MD, FASTRO; within 24 hours ASTRO had assembled a COVID-19 working group to take the limited information available, send a global inquiry to colleagues and write guidelines on how to continue radiation therapy treatment in the middle of a pandemic. The ASTRO survey tracked how these guidelines were used and implemented in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. Results on the implementation of safety procedures, adoption of telemedicine and PPE and staffing shortages, among other pertinent data, were presented in a Late-breaking abstract at this year’s Annual Meeting and published in the Red Journal. Despite the challenges, Dr. Wakefield said, “We continued giving cancer treatment as a field … giving cures to our patients who needed it the most.”

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