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A Remarkable Life: The Cicely Saunders Centenary Celebrations

A look at The Cicely Saunders Centenary Celebrations, written by Katie Witcombe, Outreach Administrator at the Cicely Saunders Institute

Although most people in the UK will know someone who has received palliative care, whether in hospital, at home or in a hospice, not everyone is aware of the individual who pioneered this area of medicine and, in doing so, transformed the type of care that people with life-limiting conditions receive. Dame Cicely Saunders was born a century ago, on 22nd June 1918, and over the course of her life undertook a number of roles, as a nurse, medical social worker, doctor and research lead, in order to bring her vision of palliative care to realisation.

St Christopher’s Hospice, which Cicely founded in 1967, is widely recognised as the first place to combine teaching and clinical research, pain and symptom control, and compassionate care. It was here that Cicely was able to develop the approach which was instrumental to the care provided at St Christopher’s; that patients need spiritual, emotional and social support, as well as effective pain relief, at the end of life. This emphasis on the holistic, as well as the physical, needs of patients is a model which has been adopted worldwide and continues to lie at the heart of care for the dying.

Since Cicely died in 2005 at the hospice she founded, her life’s work of improving palliative care provision and support for people with progressive illness has continued to progress. Cicely established the charity that would become Cicely Saunders International in 2002 and worked actively for the creation of a centre housing research, education, information provision and clinical care. In partnership with King’s College London, the charity built the Cicely Saunders Institute, a hub for academics, healthcare professionals, community organisations, patients and carers, in 2010. The Institute, now part of the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care, seeks to sustain Cicely’s legacy to pioneer the very best in palliative care and rehabilitation by developing new research to guide clinical practice, so that people can reach the end of their lives with dignity and the least possible suffering.

This year, to mark the centenary of Cicely’s birth and her remarkable contributions to the field of palliative care, we are curating a series of events which celebrate her life and showcase the ongoing development of palliative medicine, both in the UK and internationally. As well as our regular Wednesday Seminar Series, the Cicely Saunders Institute will be hosting a range of lectures, workshops and other special events, bringing together the research and clinical practice spearheaded by Cicely over the course of her life. Everyone is welcome to attend, even if this is your first experience of Cicely’s work or the field of palliative care in general.

There will be plenty of online activity to engage during the centennial celebrations. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed, where we will be sharing some of Cicely’s most iconic quotes (#VoiceofCicely) and images from the ‘Light for Cicely’ installation, which was created by artist Caroline McCarthy and features contributions from family, friends and former colleagues (#LightforCicely). Key moments and photographs from Cicely’s life will be shared by Cicely Saunders International on Twitter (#CicelysLegacy) and we’ll also be exploring materials from the archive, including her personal writings, photographs and recordings, on our Instagram account. If you have a memory or experience of Cicely that you would like to share, please feel free to post on Twitter using the hashtag #Cicely100 or email to katie.witcombe@kcl.ac.uk so that we can create an online scrapbook of recollections and personal anecdotes.

To keep up to date with our evolving centennial series, follow us on Twitter, and sign up to our events mailing list for all of our recent announcements, news and events.