A Family Tradition: The Personal Story Behind the Miami Breast Cancer Conference

Ben Leach
Published: Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012
Lois and Daniel A. Osman, MD

Lois and Daniel A. Osman, MD

For nearly three decades, medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, as well as a number of other specialists who work with patients with breast cancer, have descended upon Miami every spring to catch up on the latest research. The conference draws more than 1000 guests each year from all over the world, and the agenda is packed from dawn until dusk with a wide variety of presentations from experts who are considered among the top in their field.

While the Miami Breast Cancer Conference— which will be taking place once again March 14- 17, 2012—is by no means the largest conference dedicated to breast cancer, it has become a well-respected and well-attended gathering that specialists make a point of returning to year after year. It may come as a shock, then, to learn that the success of the conference has not depended on a large national organization.

Instead, one family has handled the brunt of organizing the conference from its inception: the Osmans. Daniel A. Osman, MD, and his wife, Lois, have been the driving force behind the conference since the early 1980s, when it was just an abstract concept in the then-young breast surgeon’s mind. And, despite the growth and success of the conference over 29 years, Osman said his approach to the meeting has not changed.

“When you’re here, we want you to feel like you’re part of a family,” he said.

Humble Beginnings

In the late 1970s, lumpectomies were fairly new and not well understood as a form of surgery for patients with breast cancer. Osman believed that this new minimally invasive surgery was revolutionary, yet there were no existing conferences where he could share his knowledge with other surgeons who had also begun performing the procedure.

“I decided it would be a good idea to let other people know about this surgery,” Osman said.

Osman corresponded with some of the only other surgeons working with lumpectomies at the time, including Bernard Fisher, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh, and Umberto Veronesi, MD, who later went on to found the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy. With the help of his wife, Osman began the arduous task of organizing a breast cancer conference.

“Neither one of us had any experience with holding a meeting,” Lois said. “We figured it out as we went along.”

In that first year, the Osmans estimate that about 90 surgeons attended the meeting. Since it was a fairly small and manageable crowd, Daniel and Lois made it a priority to personally greet everyone who attended, to find out who they were and where they were from, and to make sure that everyone felt welcome and encouraged to participate. In the early years of the conference, they would take the speakers to dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab, a famous seafood restaurant in Miami, and established a tradition of hosting a buffet on the lawn in front of the hotel.

A Growing Success

After that first year, word of mouth spread about the meeting, particularly about its focus on new techniques in breast cancer surgery and its atmosphere of a personal gathering of friends. The next year, 200 people attended the Miami conference—and ever since, the conference has continued to attract a larger, more diverse audience.

Robert DerHagopian, MD, currently the director of the Baptist Health Breast Center in Miami, was one of the people who got involved with the Osmans at the early stages of the conference’s history. DerHagopian said he first began attending in either the second or third year. Since then, he said he serves as a sort of “sounding board” for the Osmans.

“Dan would run ideas by me and some other people he knew as a way to let us know what kinds of things he wanted discussed at his conference,” DerHagopian said. “He wanted to make sure that whatever was discussed at the conference was relevant to the people attending it.”

As the conference developed its own personality separate from other conferences, Osman developed a mantra that still guides the content: Learn something new on Saturday, be able to put it into practice by Monday.

Although the conference was initially attended almost exclusively by surgeons, after the first few years, the Osmans expanded the scope. They worked with Neil Love, MD, a medical oncologist who also worked in Miami, to begin including presentations on breast cancer research that extended beyond surgery. As a result, the conference has long focused on a multidisciplinary approach to treating breast cancer.

Initially, however, DerHagopian and others who had attended the conference were hesitant when Osman suggested expanding its scope. “Instead of information you could use on Monday, [Osman] thought that this information would be important a few years ahead,” DerHagopian said.

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