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Thank you, Jimmie Holland. We Will Miss You. 

One of the many things I marvel at in my professional life is how often I have been placed in the way, seemingly by chance, of people of extraordinary wisdom and talent who have more than freely shared that wisdom and knowledge with me and thus enabled me to make whatever contributions I have made.  In health care chaplaincy, there are still a lot of my colleagues who see physicians as mostly impediments to the integration of spiritual care. Indeed those physicians exist, but I have found it true much more often that physicians are glad to have me around and to share with me wisdom I never was exposed to in seminary or even my own clinical training.

When I arrived at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a very new chaplain in 1978, there were chaplains but no chaplaincy service or department and chaplaincy was not integrated at all. I soon met Dr. Jimmie Holland who had arrived the year before as an already well-established psychiatrist in oncology. Over the next 30 years or so, Jimmie built, not only a premier mental health service and training and research program in a cancer center but founded and built the international discipline of psycho-oncology itself.

During those decades, she always had the time to share with this increasingly not so young chaplain not just how to do what we now call palliative care and how to be a contributing member of an interdisciplinary team, but how to actually build a profession for the long term. She always welcomed chaplains into her projects- not as something exceptional but as something that was the right thing to do for patients. She was a consistent, outspoken and unrelenting supporter of chaplaincy and spiritual care including at times and in places where that defense was not very popular among her medical peers. She was founding chair of the pastoral care advisory committee at MSKCC and held that position for many years. She was a recipient of HCCN’s Wholeness of Life Award, and the APC’s 2007 Distinguished Service Award which is the highest award given to a non-chaplain.  She included chaplains in every major conference and publication she did and I cannot remember a favor we ever asked of her that she didn't enthusiastically accept. Any attempts at expressing gratitude were almost always met with the same response. "But George, this is really important". Jimmie eventually retired from her administrative positions but never stopped running groups, seeing patients, and doing research.

Dr. Jimmie Holland died on December 24th at the age of 89. I last talked to her on November 17th as part of the annual conference call of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network's Distress Management Guidelines Panel that she advocated for many years ago and chaired ever since. As usual, she had lots of energy, an encyclopedic grasp of the latest research, and lots of ideas for moving the work of the panel ahead including some long-needed, major rework on the chaplaincy section of the guidelines that she asked me to lead. For Jimmie, it was always about making life better and reducing suffering for people with cancer and their caregivers. Another lesson that became a mantra in my own career.

Jimmie Holland's death is certainly a major loss for me personally but it is also a huge loss for everyone involved in psychosocial-spiritual care. Fortunately, I am far from the only practitioner who learned their lessons well under Jimmie's tutelage.  We are literally all over the world in psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, oncology, palliative care and even a few chaplains. As the excerpt from the MSK press release below says, Jimmie Holland changed the field of cancer care. Thanks Jimmie.

From the MSKCC Press release.

  For more than 40 years, Jimmie made an essential question — "How do people withcancer feel?" — the center of her work. During her years at MSK, she created the nation's largest training and research program in psycho-oncology. In 1984, she produced for MSK the first-ever syllabus on psycho-oncology and, in 1989, was senior editor of the first textbook on the subject.

  Throughout her career, Jimmie conducted important research about how battles with cancer affect the mind. She helped establish important insights on the best way to treat depression during cancer treatment and to treat anxiety in those who have survived.

  Jimmie also shared her knowledge with the world. She co-founded the International Psycho-Oncology Society in 1984, and she founded the American Psychosocial Oncology Society in 1986. She is credited with putting psychosocial and behavioral research on the agenda of the American Cancer Society (ACS) in          the early 1980s. She was also a co-editor-in-chief of the journal Psycho-Oncology.

  The ACS awarded her its Medal of Honor for Clinical Research in 1994. She was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Medicine in 1995, and received the Presidential Commendation from the American Psychiatric Association in 2000, among many other awards.

Through her visionary work, Jimmie changed the field of cancer care by shining a light on the inner lives of patients. She will be dearly missed.


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