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University hopes psychosocial care to play bigger role to cancer treatment

Reporter: Hendrik Sybrandy 丨 CCTV.com

10-20-2016 14:33 BJT

Cancer is a disease that touches many of us. According to the US National Cancer Institute, half of American men and a third of American women will get some form in their lifetime. Cancer rates are also climbing worldwide. While medical treatment has advanced in recent years, the psychological care for cancer patients has been less of a priority. One US university is trying to change that.

 "I was diagnosed with late Stage 3 breast cancer in February of 2015."

Diane Simard remembers it well.

"It was quite a shock."

This Colorado businesswoman did what many who receive this diagnosis do: she underwent surgery, extensive radiation and chemotherapy.
"The thing with chemo is the drugs are bad enough that they're putting into your system but it's the repetitive nature that really starts to wear on you. So I was getting very down and depressed," Diane Simard said.

She asked her oncologist for professional help to deal with those feelings.

 "She said I really wish I could. In fact, if you know of someone I would like to know who they are," Diane Simard said.

That experience drove Simard to help found the University of Denver's Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence, or COPE. Here, graduate students in psychology are taught how to provide psychosocial services to cancer patients.

"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer about eight years ago," Hannah Katz said.

As one of her mother's caregivers, student Hannah Katz says she found the physical side of cancer gets much more attention than the emotional side.

"There's not really any psychological support out there specifically for survivors," Hannah Katz said.

It's a real problem. Cancer patients often have anxiety and issues with relationship changes, body image and loss of hair. Clinical depression is a common symptom, too.

"Having reduced depression can increase adherence to treatment and that helps overall with reduced mortality, increased quality of life, all those kinds of things," Nicole Taylor said.

COPE director Nicole Taylor says some hospitals and cancer centers are seeing the benefits of psychological support for cancer patients.

"I think it's starting to change a little bit."

This first-of-its-kind program in the U.S., which began in September, includes role-playing exercises in which students play both health care professionals and patients. One cancer survivor says she could have used this kind of help several years ago.

 "There were definitely things that were not there," said Dr. Lavita Nadkarni, cancer survivor.

Simard predicts those services will become more and more common. She says it only makes sense.

"You're more likely to have a patient I think that has a better quality of life if you're looking at both the psychological and the physical aspects of who they are as a human being," Simard said.

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