2023 Summer was a busy one for our team. Leading the work on Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer (AYA) Care in the EU-cofunded European Network of Youth Cancer Survivors project “EU-CAYAS-NET” we were on the move constantly.
We organised Peer Visits in three awesome European countries – Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. We visited a total of 5 hospitals, participated in many educational stakeholder meetings, and worked alongside an incredible team of 30 participants, eager to make a difference.
Now, you might be wondering: What’s all the fuss about? What exactly are these Peer Visits?
Let’s dive into it!
Peer Visits: An In-Depth Look
The concept of Peer Visits is rooted in observational research. It allowed our participants to step into the shoes of local service users (patients) and healthcare professionals, and observe their natural work environment, gaining valuable insights through three types of observations:
Naturalistic Observation: Participants observed the environment where patients receive care and healthcare professionals are working.
Participatory Observation: They conducted interviews, took notes, and captured photographs during the guided tour of the hospitals
Structured Observation: They filled in a carefully designed Peer Observation Form, focusing on specific aspects of AYA care.
This form of peer learning is designed to stimulate interaction, collaborative learning and solution-building. Our goal is to contribute to a “Specialist AYA Units Minimum Standards” position paper, which will be developed based on peer study reports resulting from Peer Visits to AYA oncology departments in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. We were also able to provide the collaborating institutions with valuable feedback, along with practical takeaways that our participants can use to support health-policy initiatives in their own countries.
Gelato, tulips and Belgian waffles
Our journey began in Milan, Italy, where we were warmly welcomed by Dr. Andrea Ferrari and the fantastic team at Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori. We had a deep dive into the world of AYA care, youth projects, and support programs for young cancer fighters in Italy.
But the real magic happened when we met some remarkable Italian AYA patients – Giorgia, Adelina, Edoardo, Andrea, Giorgia B, Teresa, and Marta. Their stories touched our hearts, and we had some truly heartwarming and lovely conversations with them.
We also had a chance to catch up with our FORTEe project partners, William Guglielmo Zardo and Marco Chisari, and discuss the exciting plans we have in store for the future.
We later payed a visit to Fedro Peccatori at the Fertility and Procreation unit at the European Institute of Oncology and dropped by the headquarters of Europa Donna – The European Breast Cancer Coalition, where we met with Marzia Zambon, Martina Fontana, Paige Robinson, Giulia Pareschi, and Tanja Spanic.
Our next stop was in Ghent, Belgium. We had a strong start with engaging discussions at the Ghent University Hospital, led by the local AYA host team: Johan De Munter, Nathalie Belpame, Veerle Sey, and Karsten Vanden Wyngaert. We talked about healthcare, insurance, training for medical staff, and learned a lot about how they support young people with cancer. We are so grateful to all the AYA care experts who participated in our focus groups.
We discussed topics like helping minorities and long-term support for young people even after they finish their treatment.We also had stakeholder group meetings with Stichting tegen Kanker & Kom op tegen Kanker NGOs and had the privilege to visit several charitable funded initiatives on the hospital grounds. Another highlight of our trip in Belgium was our visit to Het Majin Huis in Ghent, an open support house, which left us feeling truly inspired.
During our session with Chloe De Roo from the Fertility service we talked about personalised preservation choices for young people. It was eye-opening to discover that professionals undergo specialised training to better assist AYAs.
Plus, no visit to Belgium would be complete without indulging in their famous waffles during the evening!
Our journey concluded in the Netherlands, Amsterdam, where we visited three hospitals in three cities, which are part of the National AYA ‘Young & Cancer’ Care Network: Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, the Northwest Hospital Groups in Alkmaar and Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen.
Each visit provided invaluable insights into how these institutions operate and cater to the needs of AYA patients. We are incredibly grateful to Prof. Dr. Winnette van der Graaf, Dr. Eveliene Manten-Horst, Dr. Olga Husson, and their amazing team! Our discussions with them were not only super fruitful and insightful but also made our entire experience just amazing! We were thrilled to explore the Activity Centre and the Quality of Life Department. Plus, getting to catch up with our friends from the STRONG-AYA project and having more conversations was a great bonus.
Incredible guided tours led by local AYAs themselves, engaging group discussions, enriching learning moments, and meeting wonderful people – what more could we have hoped for? It was truly an unforgettable experience! Plus, we are proud to say that, by the end of our stay, we fully embraced the Dutch experience navigating public transport and coping with the moody weather !
A summer to remember
We are immensely grateful to all the healthcare professionals, institutions, and individuals who made this adventure possible. Your contributions will undoubtedly shape our ongoing efforts to support young individuals facing the challenges of cancer. We’re excited to bring back the knowledge and experiences gained during these Peer Visits to further our efforts in supporting young individuals battling cancer.
Read more on our General Report on AYA Cancer Care
Learn more about the projects we are leading within EU-CAYAS-NET and about our participation in other EU-funded projects here.