Jimmie C. Holland, MD, internationally recognized as the founder of the field of Psycho-oncology, died suddenly on 24 December 2017 at the age of 89. Dr. Holland, who was affectionately known by her first name, “Jimmie,” had a profound global influence on the fields of Psycho-oncology, Psychosomatic Medicine, and Oncology.
Dr. Holland was the Attending Psychiatrist and Wayne E. Chapman Chair at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York. In 1977, she was appointed Chief of the Psychiatry Service in the Department of Neurology at MSK. The Psychiatry Service at MSK was the first such clinical, research, and training service established in any cancer center in the world. In 1996, Dr. Holland was named the inaugural Chairwoman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MSK Cancer Center, also the first such department created in any cancer center in the world. Over 25 years ago, Dr. Holland founded and co-edited the international Psycho-Oncology journal.
Dr. Holland edited the first major textbooks of Psycho-oncology, and in 1989 edited the Handbook of Psychooncology: Psychological care of the patient with cancer. This landmark textbook was notable for several reasons; it established a “new” field, a subspecialty of both Psychosomatics and oncology. I remember being a young faculty member in Dr. Holland’s service and the very real sense that we were creating something that had not existed before. I remember her asking me to write multiple chapters, including several in which I had very little expertise. I expressed my concern, “I’m not an expert on the psychiatric complications of head and neck cancer!” She calmly reassured me, “Well, Bill, no one is. So when you finish researching and writing the chapter I suppose then you’ll be the world’s expert!”
Psycho-oncology was born and named with the publication of this textbook and with Dr. Holland’s founding of the International Psycho-oncology Society (IPOS) in 1984, then the American Psychosocial Oncology Society in 1986. Subsequently, Dr. Holland edited, with a group of co-editors, what became known as the “Bible” of Psycho-oncology; Psycho-oncology was published in 1998, and represented the most comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and international encyclopedia of a field entering its adolescence. 2010 saw the publication of the second edition followed by the third edition in 2015. Every card-carrying “psycho-oncologist” (in 57 countries with national psycho-oncology societies) had to have the latest edition in their library to demonstrate their link to Jimmie Holland. Dr. Holland also co-wrote two well received books for the public: The Human Side of Cancer and Lighter as We Go: Virtues, Character Strengths, and Aging, the latter reflecting her interests in Geriatric Oncology as she approached her 90th birthday.
Dr. Holland was born in the small farming community of Nevada, Texas in 1928. She credits the local family physician in that community for her interest in medicine and caring for those who were suffering. She was one of only three women in her class at Baylor College of Medicine. In 1956, Dr. Holland married the renowned oncology pioneer James Holland, MD, who was then Chief of Medical Oncology at Roswell Park in Buffalo, NY. She would chide James, complaining that cancer patients were asked every conceivable question about their physical functioning but never, “How do you feel emotionally?” Dr. Holland pioneered the inclusion of psychological and emotional well-being patient-reported outcomes in quality of life measures and as a component of clinical outcomes in clinical trials.
Dr. Holland has received too many awards to list, however some notable ones include: The Medal of Honor for Clinical Research from the American Cancer Society, The Marie Curie Award from the Government of France, and the Margaret L. Kripke Legend Award for contributions to the advancement of women in cancer medicine and cancer science from the MD Anderson Cancer Center. She served as President of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM) in 1996 and was the recipient of the APM’s Hackett Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. She was also the inaugural recipient of the Arthur Sutherland Award for Lifetime Achievement from IPOS.
Over a 40-year career at MSK Cancer Center, Dr. Holland created and nurtured the field of Psycho-oncology, established its clinical practice, advanced its clinical research agenda, and through her pioneering efforts, launched the careers of the leaders of a national and worldwide field who mourn her passing and continue to work in what has become a shared mission to emphasize the care in cancer care.
After stepping down as Chairman of the MSK Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in 2003, she kept working full time, seeing patients, conducting research, training and supervising fellows, and traveling the world lecturing and teaching. She also helped bring Psycho-oncology to Africa through her work with the African Organization for Cancer Research & Training in Cancer (AORTIC).
Born in a humble farming community with a one room school house, Dr. Holland created a life that led her to New York and the capitals of the world, honored by so many organizations and societies. She was teaching and seeing patients up until two days before her death. I think we’ll all remember her for various reasons. I certainly have many memories from a 34 year career working beside her. But on that list was her generosity and loving attitude towards her family, her patients, her colleagues, trainees, and everyone who crossed her path. Those who worked alongside her in medicine have made her mission our mission. We will continue this mission’s work, always remembering and honoring Dr. Jimmie Holland. Her death is a profound loss for all of Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine, Psycho-oncology, and Oncology. We’ve lost a pioneer, a remarkable woman, a once-in-a-generation influencer.
Featured image credit: Sunflower by Conner Baker. Public Domain via Unsplash.