What do oncology-trained massage therapists say about massage?

"Somehow, this routine with my hands and heart has helped me grow and to heal some of my own wounds. Contact with others requires contact between me and myself. I know myself better than I did before I started this work. My affection—for myself and for everyone else—has grown over the years. And my hands, constantly in contact with the changing waters of clients’ experiences, have learned to trust the sacred rhythm of people moving in and through and out of my life."

"I have learned that the only thing I have to offer sometimes is this deeply cultivated affection. And my companionship. I don’t have to think of anything else more helpful, cleverer or in service of a higher good. My presence honors all that my client is, was and will be. It honors everything that goes on in their bodies. To these, it is simple to offer myself. It is all I have and all I can do. And sometimes, sometimes it is enough." - Tracy Walton, LMT

"While [in oncology massage training] in Arizona, I was assigned to massage a woman who was to receive packed platelets. Her platelet count was so low she was forbidden to brush her teeth because she might bleed out. The only safe massage was to gently move the hair on her skin with a little oil. I found her in a hospital bed in a corner of the infusion room. I could see the anxiety in her face and on her heart rate and blood pressure monitors. After the nurses started the infusion, I pulled the curtain and started to massage her face and scalp, arms and hands, lower legs and feet, and finally, her back. I could feel her become progressively more relaxed and I could see the change in both monitors. By the time I reached the middle of her back, she was sound asleep. What a demonstration of the power of touch and what a demonstration that often less is truly more."  Bruce Hopkins, LMT 

"A year after treatment, Pat returned to massage.  By then the meaning of the sessions had changed.  Before cancer, the massages had been an extension of her fast paced life.  When the sessions ended, she immediately stepped back into the high stress, all relaxation quickly forgotten.  Now, time spent receiving massage has become sacred and meditative.  Pat is in the here and now; she tunes into her body; and touch is an experience that deepens her awareness.  These days Pat enjoys the good feelings massage brings to her body and holds on to those sensations as long as possible.  Bodywork lets her let go of the tension, anxiety and fear that accumulated over months of treatment. -Gayle MacDonald, LMT 

"After finding a lump in my right breast, I had a partial mastectomy with no lymph nodes removed. I was scheduled for 33 days of radiation. The doctors told me that radiation would cause my breast to shrink and become hard. Since I was a practicing massage therapist, I requested permission from my surgeon and radiologist to do self-massage to the breas.  Both doctors were supportive. Three days after surgery, I began gentle massage around the incision. When I saw the surgeon two weeks later, he commented on how well I had healed. I reminded him of the massage - he just laughed.

A week later, I began six and a half weeks of radiation. Every day I gently massaged the entire breast without lotion, focusing on the breast being a loved part of my body. After the massage, I sought out the areas that hurt, generally sharp spots of pain at the lower bra line. I set my fingers on the spots and maintained gentle contact - they dissolved in seconds. My massage took two to three minutes, sometimes several times a day.

Each week I saw the radiologist. After three weeks he started commenting on the lack of redness - it finally appeared two weeks later. He suggested a lotion for dryness which I began using.

Two weeks after radiation was done, I saw the surgeon again. He could not believe the condition of my breast. What he saw and palpated was normal, soft tissue with a very light tan. He said this was the best tissue he had seen in twelve years of cancer surgery. I reminded him that I had performed breast massage throughout the process. He did not laugh this time. The oncology radiologist had similar comments.

A month after radiation, to keep the right pectoralis major from binding, I added Myofascial Release for two months. I am now two years cancer-free. I continued the massage for a year and a half before sore and dense tissue stopped appearing - even now I occasionally have to do some touch up. My breast looks and feels completely normal (except for the fact that I am missing pieces/parts). The surgical scar is soft and faint. There is no pain or discomfort and arm motion is completely normal.

My surgeon and radiologist are very impressed and are interested in using massage in treatment."  -Susan Shields, LMT

"I worked with a quiet, middle-aged gentleman on the radiation floor where I do gentle shoulder, neck and hand massage. Near the close of our 20 minutes, he was in tears - he was so grateful for relief from the pain of treatment.  I was so touched, I was in tears, too. Later one of his family members called me to schedule a full body session for him. She explained that, much to the entire family's surprise, he had no pain that day and told them he felt nourished for the first time in his cancer treatment.

She went on to explain that he is not a man who would do anything like this for himself. They were all surprised he took me up on my offer for shoulder massage. When they asked him why he did, he said, '... because she looked at me, right in the eyes, and I thought maybe I was supposed to be touched today.'"  -Meg Robsahm, LMP

Some of these stories have been told before and so are credited here:

Gayle MacDonald , Medicine Hands, Findhorn Press, 2007, p 143
One Man's Massage Journey, Massage and Bodywork Magazine, Feb/Mar - 2007, pp45 - 49
This is an update of an item in Medicine Hands, supra note 1, p117

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