Academics and Research

University of Denver announces new center for oncology psychology

The University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), in collaboration with Diane Simard, senior vice president of Bye Aerospace, has announced plans for the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE). The goal of COPE is to increase access to psychological and social services for cancer patients and their caregivers. Oncology psychology classes will begin fall 2016, with the center scheduled for a spring 2017 launch.

Simard’s support for the center grows out of personal experience. When she was diagnosed with Stage III infiltrating ductile carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer, she says, “I actually had to Google ‘breast cancer.’ I knew nothing about it, and 115 million responses came back. It was beyond overwhelming. I couldn’t think; I didn’t know who to talk to.

“When I asked my oncologist whether she could refer me to a counselor who has experience working with a female executive cancer patient like me, she said mental health professionals, including licensed psychologists, typically don’t specialize in an area like cancer. I couldn’t believe it,” Simard recalls. “But I was too sick to care.”

For more information about COPE, visit

Five months and 16 brutal rounds of chemotherapy later, Simard survived treatment and emerged committed to “positively channeling” her experience by finding out why so little emphasis is placed on the psychological aspect of cancer — and what could she could do to change that.

Simard subsequently worked with GSPP on the design of the new center. “After a series of exploratory meetings, we realized that no psychology programs exist in the U.S. that focus on clinical training in psychosocial oncology at the graduate level,” Simard says. “COPE will be the resource that allows those who receive this diagnosis to immediately begin a conversation.”

COPE director and GSPP faculty member Nicole Taylor says the program will offer a comprehensive approach to learning through coursework, field placements, community partnerships and research.

“We will train our students to best serve cancer patients and their loved ones,” Taylor says. “It is an incredible opportunity for students to specialize in this area and for us to meet the needs of the community.”

GSPP Dean Shelly Smith-Acuna says the new program fits the GSPP training model perfectly.

“Our students receive experiential training with local agencies while completing their coursework, which means they’re already contributing to the community by seeing clients,” she says, “but we’re also developing a workforce of highly trained professionals who are going to be our future practitioners and scholars.”

GSPP student Hannah Katz will be among the first to enroll in the new specialty. “My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago,” Katz says. “As she finished treatment, I learned how little support existed for survivors of cancer. When treatment was over and life went back to ‘normal,’ the support was gone. I knew working with cancer patients and their caregivers, particularly during the survivorship stage, was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Provost Gregg Kvistad says the center is a good example of DU’s service to the community.

“We want the community to see the University of Denver as a place where problems will be addressed,” he says, “and if we’re fortunate, perhaps solved.”



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