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University of Denver Receives $1.5 Million Gift to Serve Cancer Patients and Caregivers

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Theresa Ahrens

Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence treats people impacted by the disease, with a focus on psychological and emotional support

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The University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology received its largest-ever gift, a $1.5 million bequest from an anonymous donor to support the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE). COPE is the first psychology program of its kind in the nation to provide comprehensive training at the graduate level in the social and emotional aspects of oncology.

“Through a partnership with Dean Smith-Acuña and Dr. Nicole Taylor, COPE has already been recognized for developing a national model for coping with emotional needs of cancer patients,” said Diane Simard, founder of COPE. “This generous gift draws further attention to the need for this program and contributes to its long-term sustainability.”

Diane Simard
Diane Simard

COPE was founded in 2016 by Simard, a Highlands Ranch resident who survived a diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer. Through her experience, she was surprised by the relative lack of attention given to the psychological aspects of dealing with cancer. Determined to change that, Simard partnered with Graduate School of Professional Psychology Dean Shelly Smith-Acuña and Dr. Taylor, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Denver, to design a training approach that incorporated treatment of stress, depression, anxiety, relationship changes, difficulty coping and other long-term needs of cancer patients. This model became the foundation for COPE, and Simard remains involved and instrumental in the evolution of the program.

While cancer affects one in two men and one in three women in America, many cancer centers lack the resources to provide counseling and treatment around the emotional aspects of the disease. Those needs are often misunderstood by oncologists and not covered by insurance. Through the COPE specialty, the school offers doctoral and masters level students the opportunity to specialize in psychosocial oncology, serving patients and their families.

“We are so grateful for this investment in COPE and in our graduates who will go on to provide this deeply needed service,” said Smith- Acuña. “By strengthening support for this underserved, but unfortunately very large, sector of society, we contribute to healthier, more resilient communities for all.”

Students enrolled in the COPE specialty complete significant coursework in oncology psychology and gain exposure to cancer patients through field placements and clinical internships. In turn, the COPE clinic at DU provides individuals, families and friends of cancer patients with counseling support at every stage of the cancer journey.

Nicole Taylor
Nicole Taylor

“Universities that will lead in the 21st century are those that are engaged with the community and working for mutual benefit to improve their cities for all residents,” said University of Denver Chancellor Rebecca Chopp. “Our Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence is a shining example of how the University of Denver works within our community to identify needs and respond in innovative ways. In the process, our students gain hands-on practice and develop skills that are very much needed not only in Denver but across the world.”

The first year of COPE courses will be completed in August 2017, and students will continue serving patients in the on-campus clinic and their community field placements. Over the next two years, COPE plans to expand its clinical services into satellite clinics to further grow the program.

“Our goal is to become a national model for training in psychosocial oncology, and we hope to continue to increase awareness about the importance of psychological services for cancer patients and their families. This generous gift will help us expand the program in so many important ways,” said Dr. Taylor.