John Theurer Cancer Center Scientists Develop Web-Based Intervention Addressing Distress in Caregivers of Patients Receiving Stem Cell Transplants

Published: Monday, Aug 07, 2017

A group of researchers from several institutions in the US, including John Theurer Cancer Center, studied the development of a new, web-based intervention - Pep-Pal- to provide psychoeducation and skills for caregivers of cancer patients who are experiencing significant burden and distress including depression and anxiety.

One-on-one stress management intervention is an effective method in reducing distress in caregivers of patients receiving allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplants (allo-HSCT). Pep-Pal adapts in-person caregiver stress management intervention - to a mobilized website (e.g., tablet, smartphone, or computer-based device) for self-administration in order to reduce distress for caregivers and improve access to populations most in need.

The Pep-Pal program, which consists of 9 sessions (Introduction to Stress, Stress and the Mind Body Connection, How Thoughts Can Lead to Stress, Coping with Stress, Strategies for Maintaining Energy and Stamina, Coping with Uncertainty, Managing Changing Relationships and Communicating Needs, Getting the Support You Need, and Improving Intimacy) is delivered via video instruction through a mobilized website.

“I’m excited about the potential to disseminate evidence-based resources to hard-to-reach populations, specifically, caregivers of patients with advanced cancer,” said Nicole Amoyal Pensak, PhD, lead author of the study and Assistant Scientist at the Department of Research, Cancer Prevention and Control John Theurer Cancer Center. Dr. Amoyal Pensak added, “Although caregivers may have barriers to accessing treatment, technology allows us to bring effective interventions to them.”

A report of the study findings, published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research Research Protocols on June 22, 2017 indicates that feedback from stakeholder groups, focus groups, and individual interviews were integrated into the development of Pep-Pal with the goal of enhancing dissemination, engagement, acceptability, and anticipated usability. 

Other authors on this paper include Tanisha Joshi PhD of Department of Medicine, University of Colorado Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO; Teresa Simoneau, PhD of VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System, Golden, CO; Kristin Kilbourn PhD, MPH of University of Colorado Denver- Denver, CO; Alaina Carr BA of University of Colorado Denver- Denver, CO; Jean S. Kutner MD, M.S.P.H. of Hackensack University Medical Center, Department of Biomedical Research, Cancer Prevention and Control, John Theurer Cancer Center; and Mark L. Laudenslager PhD of VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System, Golden, CO.

Dr. Pensak has received support for this study from NIA T32AG044296 (NAP), NCI CA126071 (MLL) and PCORI CE1304-6208 (MLL).  To read Dr. Pensak’s study: Development of a Web-Based Intervention for Addressing Distress in Caregivers of Patients Receiving Stem Cell Transplants: Formative Evaluation with Stakeholder Interviews and Focus Groups, visit:


John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center is New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive center dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, management, research, screenings, and preventive care as well as survivorship of patients with all types of cancers. The 14 specialized divisions covering the complete spectrum of cancer care have developed a close-knit team of medical, research, nursing, and support staff with specialized expertise that translates into more advanced, focused care for all patients. Each year, more people in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area turn to the John Theurer Cancer Center for cancer care than to any other facility in New Jersey. Housed within a 775-bed not-for-profit teaching, tertiary care, and research hospital, the John Theurer Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art technological advances, compassionate care, research innovations, medical expertise, and a full range of aftercare services that distinguish the John Theurer Cancer Center from other facilities. For additional information, please visit


Dr. Pensak is a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Scientist at Hackensack University Medical Center, whose research focuses on evidence-based technological intervention development and dissemination for patients with advanced cancer and their caregivers. In addition, she is Assistant Professor of Oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center. Before joining Hackensack University Medical Center, she was Assistant Professor in the Department of General Internal Medicine at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, where she completed an NIH/NIA-funded T32 research fellowship in Palliative Care and Aging in June 2016. Prior to that, she completed a post-doctoral fellowship in psychiatric oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. She also completed a pre-doctoral internship in Behavioral Medicine at Yale School of Medicine. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rhode Island and Master of Science in Clinical Psychology at Loyola University in Maryland.

Pensak NA, Joshi T, Simoneau T, Kilbourn K, Carr A, Kutner J, Laudenslager ML

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