Volunteer Feature|

Volunteer Ovation:  Dr. Chiara Acquati 

Meet Dr. Chiara Acquati, an Assistant Professor of Social Work and Research Coordinator at the University of Houston.  We are so fortunate to receive the benefits of Dr. Acquati’s time and talents.  Her work focuses on understanding the impact of cancer on the quality of life of patients, their spouses/partners, and caregivers.  Dr. Acquati embodies the perfect marriage between community partners and individual volunteering.  She directly brings her time and her talents as a researcher in social work to enhance the DHOH community and further its mission of improving the quality of life for young adult cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

Dr. Acquati’s work with DHOH holds special meaning for her.  As a very young girl growing up in Milan, Italy, Dr. Acquati recalls the effect it had on her when several close family members were diagnosed with cancer.  The two experiences that profoundly impacted her personal and professional identity the most were the diagnosis of her 12-year-old cousin and, later, her grandmother’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer.  She vividly remembers the impact and changes these diagnoses had on her close-knit family.  She was very young, and she noticed that “the topic of cancer was something that nobody wants to talk about; it’s a secret we don’t share. I saw my family changing dramatically, and there was no support.”

A 21-year old student studying psychology in Milan, and caregiver to her grandmother, Dr. Acquati forged an intimate understanding of the far-reaching difficulties/hardships facing cancer patients and their caregivers. “I’ve seen first hand what cancer does to a family–when cancer becomes part of your everyday life. I remember how it changed our conversations and changed how we function as a family.” She then had an opportunity in school to be involved in a project that was an intervention for couples dealing with breast cancer, which sparked her interest in pursuing oncology social work research.

When she met Dawn and Roger at an AYA survivor conference event at MD Anderson in 2017, she learned of Dan’s story and the mission of DHOH, and she was eager to lend her time and talents to be involved.  She says, “What Dan’s House offers is so unique… in offering not only housing but community building and programming that has a positive effect on the healing process.”  She thought using her background in psychology, and social work to develop a survey for guests would be an excellent way to support their work.

Dr. Acquati, Dawn, Roger, and Board members have worked collaboratively in creating an impact study for DHOH guests entitled, The DHOH-YA Impact Study: Evaluating the Impact of a Community-based Housing Program for Young Adults with Cancer and their Caregivers from the Assessment of Unmet needs to the Development of Psychosocial Programs.  Guests will be asked to answer a questionnaire before entering DHOH to determine their needs and how they are functioning/coping with stressors before they stay at Dan’s House of Hope.  Then guests will be asked to complete another survey 4 to 6 weeks after their departure from DHOH.  Studying the data gathered will help quantify guests’ overall experience at DHOH.  It will provide insight into what services were most beneficial, identify specific financial stressors, and help us learn about the quality of life impact for AYAs when connected with a peer centered community and continuing programming.

“I feel that the study can be a great tool not only to raise awareness about the psychosocial issues that young adults, their partners, and families are going through, but it can be used as a tool to evaluate services.  It can really show why what we do has value. I think that will be a valuable tool in our health care system right now.  If we change the way we are able to understand how young people or couples cope with cancer and if we involve them and their families in the decision about their care, we will have a better outcome.”

We are grateful to Dr. Acquati for generously sharing her time and expertise with DHOH.  As both educator and researcher, her dedication and expertise are helping to improve the quality of life for AYA cancer patients and caregivers today and for generations to come.

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