When Andreana Holowatyj was a doctoral student in Detroit, she encountered a patient in the clinic diagnosed with cancer who was also experiencing homelessness. Though he had free treatment, he could barely afford to get on the bus to make his appointment. This interaction inspired her to ask what “the burden of cancer looked like” for individuals experiencing homelessness. In a subsequent research study, she reported significantly higher proportions of distinct cancer types — cancers of the lung and cervix among homeless men and women — compared to the individuals not experiencing homelessness.
Holowatyj is now a Susan Cooper Jones Endowed Fellow in Cancer Research and a master’s student in clinical investigation at the U and Hunstman Cancer Institute. She has extended this passion to research to the population of individuals experiencing homelessness in Utah. Her study is the first of its kind to evaluate homelessness and cancer in the Mountain West. This ongoing study examines the burden of cancer in a new environment, providing a useful comparison to her work in Detroit and also shedding light on unique challenges that individuals who are homeless at diagnosis face in Utah. Holowatyj hopes her research will inspire awareness and emphasize the importance of providing resources to these medically underserved populations.
Holowatyj was not content to publish her findings and walk away: “I felt compelled to take ‘science to society,’ to go from the ‘laboratory bench to the park bench’ and act to create improvements in our community.”
She decided to start a project to “de-FEET homelessness” by establishing a sock drive for individuals experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake City. She started with a goal of collecting and distributing 100 pairs of socks herself. Instead, her passion and persistence multiplied the final result to 1,413 pairs of socks, along with toiletries and hygiene kits.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2019 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.