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24/01/2018 - Obituary - Dr Jimmie Holland
Obituary - Dr Jimmie C Holland, MD (1928 - 2017): A remarkable woman in medicine and cancer care

By Professor David Kissane

Jimmie Holland provided extraordinary leadership as a pioneer of the discipline of psycho-oncology, through which psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists provide supportive and behavioural care to patients with cancer, and their families. She was an American psychiatrist committed to the care of the medically ill.

Dr Holland advocated tirelessly for routine screening of oncology patients to detect ‘distress,’ so that clinical services respond to otherwise unrecognised depression and poor coping. She fostered the international growth of psychosocial services as a basic human right in cancer care.

Born on April 9 in 1928 to Velma and Clifford Coker, Jimmie grew up on a cotton farm in Nevada, Texas, as the only girl, with the nickname of “Sugah,” among many male cousins. At school, she loved Biology and Latin, which led her to undergraduate studies at the Baylor Baptist College in Waco, Texas. She went on to become one of three women in her year of more than 90 men studying medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. She graduated in 1952. Her internship was in St Louis, where early hardship was followed by the tragic suicide of her first husband in 1955. To better understand what had happened, she travelled east to become a psychiatry resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

During a trip to Buffalo, Jimmie met Dr James Holland, then Chief of Medicine at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute, and they married in 1956. Jimmie worked in psychiatry in hospitals in Buffalo, obtained her specialist psychiatric boards in 1966, and also had five children in eight years. In 1972, James Holland undertook a cancer exchange program with the USSR, taking their blended family of six children to Russia for a year, before moving to Mt Sinai Hospital in New York in 1973. They established their family home family in Scarsdale, Westchester County, New York, in a house that had been headquarters in 1776 to General William Howe, Commander in Chief of the British Forces in America, during the Battle of White Plains with George Washington’s troops in the Revolutionary War.

Jimmie worked initially from 1973 as a psychiatrist at Montefiore Hospital of The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. James Holland became a distinguished leader of medical oncology at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York, successfully treating young children with leukaemia, and sparking Jimmie’s interest in psychosocial cancer care. She started at America’s largest comprehensive cancer centre, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in 1977. Together, the Drs Holland forged a medical partnership that has significantly changed the care of patients with cancer. Through clinical trials with the Cancer and Leukaemia Group B, they added quality of life examination to national collaborative cancer trials, and thus psycho-oncology studies became routinised in the USA.

Jimmie Holland became Chief of the Psychiatry Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in 1977, and the first chairman of its Department of Psychiatry in 1996. Throughout her tenure at MSKCC, she mentored many of today’s leaders of the discipline.Cancer in the 1970s was a stigmatized illness, experienced as a catastrophic event with its threat of death and challenging treatments.

In 1980, she founded the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, and in 1984, she co-founded the International Psycho-Oncology Society and became co-editor with Dr Maggie Watson from the Marsden Hospital in the UK of the journal, Psycho-Oncology. In 1989, she co-edited with Dr Julia Rowland the first text, Handbook of Psycho-Oncology, with Oxford University Press, which today is in its third edition as the comprehensive textbook, Psycho-Oncology.

In 1994, Dr Jimmie Holland was awarded the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor for Clinical Research; in 1995, she was elected to both the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences; and in 2000, she was honored by the American Psychiatric Association with their Presidential Commendation.

Jimmie Holland had a global vision for the development of comprehensive cancer care and she lectured in many countries of the world. In supporting the development of Psycho-Oncology in Australia, the Drs Holland gave keynote addresses at the Fifth International Psycho-Oncology Society Congress in Melbourne in 2000. The Twentieth IPOS World Congress will occur in Hong Kong in 2018. Themes that have been integral to the scholarship of Jimmie Holland have been supportive care in cancer, the human experience of illness, care of the whole person, screening for distress, and fostering adaptation with courage, including the wisdom and integrity of elders within society.

Her legacy is the development of this crucial discipline, psycho-oncology, which is essential to the multi-disciplinary care of patients with cancer and their families.

Dr Holland had continued to consult at MSKCC. She died suddenly from a cardiac event on Christmas Eve and is survived by her husband, six children and many grandchildren.
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