Dr Robert Twycross spoke at Dame Cicely Saunders’s memorial service in
Westminster Abbey on 8 March. He said, in part:
DAME Cicely Saunders [
Obituary, Gazette, 22 July 2005] said: "You matter because you are you, and
you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you
die peacefully, but also to live until you die."
She was a qualified doctor, I a medical student, when I first met her at a
Student Christian Movement conference. It was truly a fateful meeting, because
it determined the direction of my medical career. I owe her a great debt of
gratitude for what she did for me then, for later appointing me as Research
Fellow in Therapeutics, and for her continued support ever since.
Cicely said: "I did not found hospice; hospice found me." But the obituaries
were unanimous: Cicely Saunders was the founder of the modern hospice movement,
of palliative care.
It is said that she was an awkward misfit at school. However, as a student
nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital, she was the popular girl, and was very happy. She
felt she’d "come home". But, even so, she had to fight a natural shyness, and
her student ward reports were not all good.
But that was long ago. More recently, one visitor described her surprise on
meeting Cicely: "I expected someone gentle, and was struck by her dynamism and
force of character. This was clearly someone who had battled." And on hearing
that someone had observed a look of love and steel in her picture in the
National Portrait Gallery, Cicely is reputed to have said: "Love and steel: how
kind. Anyone doing hospice work will need plenty of both."
Cicely certainly possessed both. How else could she have coped as a student
nurse with chronic back pain? Coped with the need to start all over again as a
social-work student? Coped with the need to go to medical school, because only
as a doctor would she be listened to by doctors?
Then, in the early 1960s, she suffered a series of bruising bereavements.
Cicely was definitely "a wounded physician", who was thus enabled to sympathise
with and support the patients and families who came under her care.
The opening of St Christopher’s Hospice in 1967 was a major milestone in
Cicely’s life. It was almost 20 years after she had first decided to build a
special home for people with terminal illness. People like David Tasma, a dying
Polish émigré, who in 1948 had left Cicely £500 so that "I can be a window in
To describe the difference St Christopher’s Hospice has made, and continues
to make, to thousands of patients and families, let me quote from a letter
written in 1972 by a grateful relative: "St Christopher’s is not just a
building, but a way of living — an attitude towards people, their life and
their death. . . It did seem very remarkable that the vision of one person, who
had responded to a need, could be caught and sustained by so many others, so
that the vision became a reality and the reality perpetuates itself creatively."
Cicely was a tireless ambassador for the cause, and others joined her in the
task. It was greatly helped in the 1980s when the World Health Organisation
introduced its Cancer Control Programme, which emphasised both pain relief and
Cicely was an inspiring teacher. Her teaching model of "total pain" took
people, almost without effort, from a narrow physical outlook to a holistic
approach in which the unit of care is the family. Cicely disparaged "tender
loving care"; she championed "efficient loving care", in which attention to
detail is the constant watchword.
In the 1960s, Cicely prepared a four-page handout for her lectures. Now, as
befits a full-blown medical speciality, the handout has been superseded by the
1244 pages of the multi-author Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine,
and by numerous other books. But the core message remains the same: "You matter
because you are you."
I wonder how many have read Cicely’s autobiography — a slender volume,
Watch with Me, containing five reflective articles written and
delivered over a span of 40 years. The last, "Consider Him", is dated 2003. In
little over ten pages, Cicely recounts the salient points on her pilgrimage
through life, and tells again the constant inspiration of her faith. She quotes
a favourite theologian: "The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of
God that the world has ever seen, and the hands that hold us in existence are
pierced with unimaginable nails."
Indeed, it is clear from her writings and diaries that her faith was
possibly the major force in her life, which sustained her through thick and
thin: a major source of her resilience and dedication.