Being an Oncology Massage Therapist

Clients often ask what oncology massage is like for the therapist.  The following eloquent answer is from an article titled "Companionship in Cancer Care" by Tracy Walton.  (
Massage Today, November, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 11, page 12

"An oncology nurse once told me that in order to get up each morning and go to work at the bone marrow transplant unit at her hospital, a certain amount of inner preparation was needed. She needed to be able to look her patients in the eye and say, "I will walk with you" through the treatment process.

Her words have stayed with me and referred me back to that inner preparation time and time again.  It’s no wonder so many nurses are drawn to massage therapy, as there seem to be several parallels in massage therapy and nursing. Touch is one of them. Alleviating suffering is another. And companionship is a third.

In my own work with people with cancer, I’ve encountered a range of individual experiences and subpopulations: cancer survivors, people in treatment, people at end of life, patients in the middle of the diagnostic process and caregivers. Within each subpopulation of my practice, individual experiences also differ widely. I’ve worked with people in many emotional states – those who are fearful, driven, hopeful, outraged, accepting, cheerful, terrified, resigned, perplexed, grieving, despairing and at peace. No matter what the journey looks like, all can use companionship.

To be that companion, I too have to ask myself each morning whether I am prepared to truly walk with my clients. Walking with a client means listening deeply, opening my heart, accompanying them without judgment, accepting that wherever they are is wherever they need to be. It means breathing through my own fears and letting my care come through my hands without hesitation. It means touching my client with full-hand contact: palms, fingers and fingertips. It means looking for ways to my client’s way, without trying to fix it, without needing either my client or my client’s path to be different.


During any health crisis, Metta meditations on loving kindness and nondenominational prayers of forgiveness may help, as may the skilled touch of massage. Loving kindness comes in many forms and massage might provide one clear, unmistakable, flesh-and-blood sense of it.

May we reach then with firm, certain and open hands."

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