Dr Jimmie Holland

Sad to hear the news of Dr Jimmie Holland’s death on Christmas Eve.  She was an early pioneer of psycho-oncology and conducted some of the first epidemiologic studies of the psychological impact of cancer on patients and their families. My first introduction to her work came shortly after I finished treatment over a decade ago and I heard her speak at a conference in Ireland. I hadn’t heard anyone speak about the psychological and emotional impact of cancer in this way and it was a revelation to me. I devoured her book The Human Side of Cancer and shortly afterwards started Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer as a way to explore the lasting psychological and emotional impact of cancer.

Dr. Holland said that when she began her work, the idea of patients’ self-report of subjective symptoms was not considered reliable or valid. No one was asking patients how they felt.  Cancer was still deep in the closet. She once told the story of a well-known woman who had a radical mastectomy, and  wanted to publicize her story in the New York Times, but the editor wouldn’t print the words breast and cancer. The editor suggested the story might be published if breast cancer were referred to as disease of the chest wall!”

Dr. Holland was the Attending Psychiatrist and Wayne E. Chapman Chair at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center and Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York. Commenting on her death, William Breitbart, MD, Chairman, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at MSK, said “Jimmie was a pioneer, a hero, an advocate, an inspirational leader, a teacher, a mentor who launched the careers of the leaders of a worldwide field, and always, up to the last days of her life, she was a caring and effective clinician.” He added, “We’ve lost a remarkable woman, a once-in-a-generation influencer.”