Finding his Voice

Only a few times since he met Caitlyn, has Dr. Allen Finley shared her story. His friends know about her, and a few colleagues. But his lectures, keynote speeches, conversations with peers, residents and even with patients, often lack any mention of her. He rarely tells the story about the four year-old cancer patient who changed his life early on in his career. Caitlyn taught Finley about pain. He wasn’t even considering pediatric pain as a field of focus in his residency, but watching this little girl suffer, without much support from the medical system, and ultimately die, made him realize something must change. When he tells the story, you can feel his passion for helping children, and you begin to understand the dire need to better treat children’s pain.

Even in his public role of a pediatric pain advocate, Finley doesn’t focus on Caitlyn; instead, he speaks as many experts do in the language of research and academia.

His first attempt to write an opinion editorial at home in Canada for his local paper on children’s pain was muddled. In his words, the piece was written “in an academic style, using phrases that were factual, but cautious, non-emotional and fairly flat.”

His natural instinct to talk like an academic carried over into the Mayday Pain & Society Fellowship workshop in 2005. Interview after interview lacked life, energy and passion. Finally, at a coffee break at the workshop, one trainer cornered him. “Tell me, Allen, why do you do what you do?” The story of Caitlyn came to life in Finley’s words. “That’s it!” the trainer said. “You’ve found your voice.” Finley came to realize the power of telling stories; how the children in the stories made the problem real. Finley rewrote his op-ed, and the lead was his experience treating Caitlyn.

Instead of running in his local paper, Finley’s op-ed appeared in the leading national newspaper in Canada, The Globe & Mail.

And as is common, his op-ed led to an opportunity for further exposure, in this case a phone call from the producers of a national radio program of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) asking Finley to do an in-depth interview about pediatric pain. It would feature real patients to bring the story to life. Reaching millions of homes, the program is a great forum to raise awareness about children and pain.

Finley is now sharing not only his expertise about pediatric pain, but his powerful message and voice. From his op-ed: “Imagine being the parent of a child with cancer who won’t even let you hug her because it hurts too much. Imagine being a teenager with chronic pain who nobody believes. Imagine being too young to find the words to say when it hurts.”

G. Allen Finley, M.D., 2005/06 Mayday Fellow, is professor of anesthesia and psychology at Dalhousie University, medical director of pediatric pain management at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, and president of the International Association for the Study of Pain Special Interest Group on Pain in Childhood.

23 March 2016