Emotional Support

I Have a Hero

My hero is Dr. Jimmie Holland. She just passed away at 90 years old. She was a truly remarkable lady and one I so wish I had been fortunate enough to meet.

From an article in the New York Times, I am paraphrasing a few of her thoughts.

Dr. Holland was the first woman to pioneer the field of psycho-oncology – the emotional distress of cancer patients while their medical symptoms were being addressed. She became the first woman to head a clinical department at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She was frustrated that her husband’s oncology colleagues were focusing solely on medical treatment and not on the state of mind of patients facing unpredictable prognoses.

It’s bad enough to have cancer, she told the website Medscape.com in 2015, but when all your family and friends are saying that you have to be positive and you have to fight this thing and the patient is exhausted and beaten up by the treatments, it seems to me that adding the burden of being positive is ridiculous.

Dr. Holland treated depression in patients undergoing treatment and anxiety in survivors, sometimes over body image after the loss of a breast or testicle.

She urged doctors to screen for emotional distress as a vital sign, just as they do for pulse, temperature, respiration, blood pressure, and pain. Psychological symptoms, she said could often be relieved by antidepressants, anxiety medicine, medication, and other treatments. She quoted a patient of hers as saying,”They have measured everything but my thoughts and mind. Somehow my mental attitude, the stress, the anguish should be analyzed and studied the same as my physical condition.”

For more than 40 years Dr. Holland asked an essential question: “How do people with cancer feel?” It was the center of her work. Dr. Holland described her focus on how emotionally healthy individuals dealt with catastrophic disease:

“One of the things that I have learned in 40 years is that our emotions are exactly the same; they haven’t changed one iota over millennia. It’s fear, it’s worry, it’s what’s going to happen to me and what’s going to happen to my family. All of these fears are there.”

What the patient has always wanted and still wants to know is, this doctor cares about me. “When you feel like your doctor cares, then you’re right there ready to help.”

What a beautiful, caring, unbelievable woman. My hero!

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