Kate Granger, the founder of the campaign #hellomynameis, which asked for a respectful approach to patients by health care staff, is dead. Kate has left a mark on me, my own approach to cancer and my mortaliy.
The terminally ill hospital consultant had spoken out against treatment by hospital staff, which had made her feel not like a person but "like a diseased body". In response Kate Granger launched the #hellomynameis campaign for health care staff to introduce themselves to patients by name and to adopt an overall more human, respectful and empathic approach.
She was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2011 and died this Saturday (23rd July 2016) at the age of 34.
I did not know Kate, and I only learnt of her in late May via twitter. And even then I did not know much about her. But her name @GrangerKate kept coming up again and again, and that of her husband @PointonChris and of her campaign #hellomynameis , which was supported by 90 NHS institutions across the country. Her blog The Other Side was Kate Granger's own "true story of one doctor's journey as a patient coming to terms with a terminal cancer diagnosis."
Last Wednesday (20th July) Kate sent a tweet from her hospital bed together with her husband thanking everybody for reaching her £250,000 target for her @YCC_appealYorkshire Cancer Centre Appeal.
I had been considering over and over whether to write something or nothing on the death of Kate Granger. What is there to say, that has not already been said while she was alive?
About how she inspired people, not just those affected by cancer and health care staff.
About how people who have been treated, who are being treated, and who are dying of cancer can relate to her own experience:
- of the loss of identity and being reduced to cancer by many many people around us (sometimes including ourselves),
- of the discomfort and guilt of outliving others,
- of the strength we can find within ourselves,
- of the things we do to keep motivated,
- of the things others can do that stifle our motivation,
- of what a blessing a loving and supportive relationship can be.
Experiencing Kate from afar has affected me in at least three ways.
- The fact that even she as a medical professional experienced a rather unhelpful attitude from fellow colleagues still amazes me, the lack of eye contact, the almost mechanical approach. I know it is a tough job, and I know there are many many exceptions. But I also know from personal experience how powerful the interpersonal skills (or lack of) shown by health care practitioners can be. Often it is all that can stand between a soul saving and soul destroying consultation, and that is irrespective of the medical message. Delivery of any diagnosis, outcome or treatment update is powerful. Rightly or wrongly, I would have never assumed that a fellow medic would not be treated with respect. That was shocking for me. If that is the case, then things are truly bad.
- #hellomynameis has given me the confidence and permission to speak out if / when I feel treated inappropriately at medical appointments. It is understandable to feel vulnerable, frightened, preoccupied, overwhelmed and acutely aware of a power differential in the consulting room. Sometimes we are just afraid of what the consequences might be, if we speak out.
- I will keep going to the best of my abilities. When I heard of Kate's death today I felt what I always feel, when people affected by cancer die: a quiet sadness, a draining of physical and soul energy. Someone else's death is passing my own mortality and on its way greets my constant and hyper vigilant companion called "returning cancer symptoms fear".
I know from experience that for me the most effective way of dealing with these moments is to be active, ideally outdoors. And so, on this sticky July Sunday, I started sweeping the yard, tidying the wood stack and rearranging fire wood for the winter. All the while thinking of Kate, and seeing her face, and thinking what can I possibly say, that has not already been said.
All I can and need to do is to carry on as best as I can and to say:
Hello my name is Karin Sieger, I am a psychotherapist and have been treated for cancer. Cancer is one of many aspects of my life. Right now I am grateful for what I have and grateful for people like Kate, who inspire with their amazing energy. I will take this inspiration into my own heart, to the best of my ability. This afternoon this meant getting ready for another autumn and winter and spring. While I am taking nothing for granted, I will not waste what I have.