Professor Profile: Rosana DeMarco
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
It is not the norm for an associate nursing professor to co-produce a movie. Then again, nothing about professor Rosanna DeMarco reflects the commonplace. An ovarian cancer survivor and devoted public health nurse research and educator, DeMarco’s life is a testimony of perseverance and compassionate service for others.
DeMarco, who received her B.S. from Northeastern, M.A. from Boston College, and Ph.D. from Wayne State University, gained the inspiration to pursue a degree in nursing from her neighbor who worked at Brockton Hospital. She saw nursing as a means to assist others in a healing process.
“Nursing is a science that aims at developing solutions to the complexities that interfere in healing that go beyond coming into a hospital for care,” DeMarco said. “Nurses accompany their patients through the many stages of acute and chronic illness, or maybe even the joyful birth of a baby.”
As a public health nurse, DeMarco is concerned with the health of individuals and families when they leave the hospital and return to a community. “Public health is about giving everyone the opportunity to be healthy,” DeMarco said. “Nurses are committed to individuals, families, and populations. For me, the population has been my focus because I really think that everybody justly should have an opportunity to be healthy.”
Much of DeMarco’s work and research as a public health nurse is centered on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, specifically for low-income black women who are aging and living with HIV infection.
What separates her from doctors and nurses in hospitals is her involvement with and study in communities affected by the disease. “I’d like to catch people before they come down the stream of being ill. I’d rather go up the top of the stream and figure out why they are there before it is too late.”
The top of the stream for DeMarco is nearby, in the inner city of Boston, Mass. Contradictory to what some may think, HIV is an epidemic affecting many poverty-stricken people in the Boston community among other communities across the country. “This idea that [HIV] has gone away or is only in Africa is foolish,” DeMarco said.
Her research on marginalized women suffering from HIV often depicts a common narrative known as the Silencing the Self Theory, originally termed by the researcher and social psychologist Dana Jack in 1991. “Silencing the Self Theory,” DeMarco said, “is the concept that describes common behaviors of women who often silence their voice and put others before themselves.” In HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, DeMarco sees this as detrimental to diagnosis and treatment: “In HIV care and treatment, if you can’t tell others what you need and what you feel, you put yourself at risk.”
DeMarco’s HIV research and initiative to help sufferers culminates in the film Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives. Co-produced by Chad Minnich and former Connell School of Nursing (CSON) professor Anne Norris, the film chronicles the lives of four local Boston women struggling with HIV. The brave women talk about their lives to prevent other women from contracting HIV.
Most rewarding to DeMarco was the fact that the women came up with the idea of a film on their own. “After working for years with black women who have HIV, they finally said, ‘I don’t want to listen to you talk anymore, I want to do something.’ They were able to learn and become the leaders of their initiative,” she said.
The project did not end with the movie’s production and viewing in the U.S.—DeMarco made it global. In July of 2012, she traveled to Vietnam with Thanh Tran of the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), and six BC students to show the film in Vietnamese to communities at high risk for HIV/AIDS. Then, in September of 2012, she journeyed to Nicaragua with Ronna Krozy, a retired CSON professor. The pair trudged from door to door in thick heat, visiting over 20 clinics and private homes to show their film to all who were willing to watch. “The film helps others understand the myths and the truths about HIV,” DeMarco said.
Most inspiring about DeMarco’s story is her ability to transform her battle with cancer into compassion toward those suffering with HIV and a greater understanding of the nursing profession. As a patient, she saw the value of nurses. “They truly accompany others along the way,” she said. “In my case of chemotherapy and surgery, they helped inspire to not give up.”
She finds a connection between cancer and HIV. “The stories merge,” DeMarco said. “They are both life-threatening illness, and they don’t have cures.” DeMarco believes the parallels between cancer and HIV are not seen in our community. “With HIV,” she said, “there is so much stigma and negativity about what you did to get the virus, versus the heroism around the courage of having cancer and beating it.” Much of her work concentrates on the stigma attached to these women with HIV. “In the end, all that we want is to have the time we need to really have a quality life and to stay healthy, even if that might be limited.”