Although cancer attacks the body first and foremost, the mental and emotional stress on patients and caregivers can be nearly as burdensome. “People [diagnosed with cancer] are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and [see] changes in their relationships,” says Nicole Taylor, director of the University of Denver’s new Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE). In fact, the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer requires that comprehensive cancer centers screen patients for psycho-social distress.
The first-of-its-kind COPE program launched in 2016 to educate doc-toral psychology students on supporting the emotional needs of cancer patients and their loved ones. In addition to classes on cancer basics, grief and loss, and strategies for working with doctors and nurses, the center also provides hands-on clinical training at DU’s Professional Psychology Clinic and through field placements at local cancer centers. “If you’re depressed and not wanting to get out of bed, then you’re probably not going to make it to all your appointments or take all the medications you need,” Taylor says. Adding psychologists to patients’ medical teams helps address those issues and keeps the focus where it should be: on getting healthy.