Oncology massage is the modification of existing massage therapy techniques in order to safely work with complications of cancer and cancer treatment. Anyone who has ever received cancer treatment, from those in active treatment to those in recovery or survivorship, as well as those at the end of life, are best served by a massage therapist who has received training in oncology massage.
Essential aspects of an oncology massage therapist's skill set are an informed understanding of the disease itself and the many ways it can affect the human body; the side effects of cancer treatments, such as medications, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; and the ability to modify massage techniques in order to adapt for these side effects, as well as for the disease.
ONCOLOGY MASSAGE ASSESSMENTS
Clinical assessments and adaptations to the massage session for someone experiencing cancer or with a history of cancer treatment are critical to providing a safe massage. Standard oncology massage intake questions include those pertaining to:
A properly trained massage therapist will ask questions about these issues and more, depending on your unique situation. Many of the changes that will be made to your session will be virtually imperceptible to you as a recipient (and others may be quite obvious), but they are essential to safety and proper support of your well being.
My oncology massage work, while seemingly devoted to the healing of others, is also a touchstone for my own healing. Time and time again, a client comes in with a body needing massage, a body carrying the intensity of the deepest health crisis imaginable. My job is to put my hands on this body and invite in some ease and some comfort. For each person, I make a humble offering of my own companionship. My hope is that this makes a difference to them. But I am certain it makes a difference to me.
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 2
She is much older than her 9 years, the girl who always accompanies her mom to chemo and radiation treatments. She acts as her translator, interpreting news and information that a young child should not be exposed to. One day, I was walking with the girl when we passed a patient who was very disfigured from a large tumor on the neck. Putting my arm around her, I quietly said, “You are too young to be exposed to so much illness.”She looked at me and said, “It's OK, this is my normal.”
Whenever I see her, I bring the girl into my massage room for a few minutes of pampered attention. I became her caregiver. She is such a delight to talk to. You have “hands of clouds” she told me, the first time I massaged her back.
Toni Muirhead, LMT 3
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 face paced life. When the sessions ended, she immediately stepped back into the high stress, all relaxation quickly forgotten. Now, time spent receiving massage is 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 1
Alicia was a long-term client. I worked with her all through her chemo and radiation for breast cancer. Some months after treatment, she was back in the hospital with metastases to the brain. After several tries at curative therapies she decided to go home. Her husband called and asked if I would give her a massage every day until she died. Over the next three days she became less and less responsive, while periodically becoming very agitated. Each day massage brought her peaceful sleep. On the fourth day she was unresponsive and her breathing was a death rattle. As I worked, I was sure that a deep and distant part of her knew I was there. She died peacefully a short time later. It is a transcendent experience to stand at the gateway between life and death.
Bruce Hopkins, LMT 2
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 breast and both 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, LMT4
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. 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 suppose to be touched today.”
Meg Robsahm, LMP
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NIV)
When I focus on what is good today, I have a good day. When I focus on what is bad today, I have a bad day. If I focus on the problem, the problem increases. If I focus on the solution, the solution increases.
Each of us has a fire in our heart for something. Find yours and keep it lit.
A friend is someone who knows the song of your soul and sings it back to you when you have forgotten the words.
And finally, a thought for the end of life ..... "I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. Goodbye."
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.
If you see what you do each day as your way of loving the world and helping it heal, then life gets to be a lot different. The difference between burning up and burning out is the difference between loving what you are doing and not loving it.
Bernie Siegel, MD
It's not about curing the disease, but healing the life; then the physical benefits come.
Bernie Siegel, MD
To heal is to unify the physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual selves into an integrated and harmonious whole. To cure is to eliminate a demonstrable disease process. One can be healed without being cured.
Bruce Hopkins, LMT
Happiness is a not a destination, but the journey. Dealing with cancer is both destination and journey. Medicine is concerned with the quality of the destination. Massage is concerned with the quality of the journey.
Bruce Hopkins, LMT
Massage soothes the body, easing mind and spirit. Mind and spirit, in turn, remind the body of its God given power to self-heal.
Bruce Hopkins, LMT
Oncology massage is sacred work. Thank you for your love made tangible.
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
Where there's surrender, synchronicity tends to follow.
Freedom from illness is the foremost good fortune. Contentment is the foremost wealth. Trust is the foremost kinship. Seeing what actually exists is the foremost ease.
We think work with the brain is more worthy than work with the hands. Nobody who thinks with his hands could ever fall for this.
People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun's out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light within.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross
Forever is composed of nows.
...science is confirming what we know in our hearts: that, as psychiatrist James Gordon put it, "massage is medicine."
George Howe Colt
Whether we think we can or cannot, we are right.
A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.
You may not know that the world needs you, but it does. For no one else can smile your smile, say your piece, shine your light.... you are unique and you alone can fill your place. If you were not here to shine your light, what would happen to pilgrims passing by your empty place in the darkness, without your light to help them on their way? You may not know that the world needs you, but it does.
Inspired by an Old Poem
Touch was never meant to be a luxury. It is a basic human need. It is an action that validates life and gives hope to both the receiver and the giver The healing of touch is reciprocal.
No single therapeutic agent can be compared in efficiency with this familiar but perfect tool...the human hand. If half as much research had been expended on the principles governing manual treatment as upon pharmacology, the hand would be esteemed today on a par with drugs in acceptability and power.
J. Madison Taylor, M.D. 1908
Some say, after we have mastered the wind, the waves. the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
Jesuit Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
You don't get to choose how you are going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you are going to live. NOW!
Eternity is not the hereafter..... this is it. If you don't get it here, you won't get it anywhere.
Celebrate life by living to the edge of all possibility.
Judy Arntson, CMT
Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.
For fast acting relief, try slowing down.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
M. Kathleen Casey
May the work of your hands be a sign of gratitude and reverence to the human condition.
It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing.... You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.
The true voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed with the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. Throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade-winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
Live with intention, walk to the edge, listen hard, practice wellness, play with abandon, laugh, choose with no regret, continue to learn, appreciate your friends, do what you love, live as if this is all there is.
Mary Anne Radmacher
When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open, and love steps forth to heal everything in sight.
We serve life, not because it is broken, but because it is holy.
Perhaps we are too embarrassed or to frightened of the consequences of showing that we actually care. But why not risk it anyway? Begin, today. Carry out a random act of seemingly senseless kindness, with no expectation of reward or punishment. Safe in the knowledge that one day someone, somewhere might do the same for you.
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Deep peace of the rising star to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the rolling wave to you. Deep peace of the gentle earth to you. Deep peace of the bright blue sky to you. Deep peace of the gentle breeze to you. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you. May peace fill your soul and make you whole.
There is no profit in curing the body if in the process we destroy the soul.
Samuel Golter, City of Hope
All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
Treat each person as you would an old friend.
The Dalai Lama
Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.
The Dalai Lama
May you be at peace. May your heart remain open. May you awaken to the light of your own true nature. May you be healed. May you be a source of healing to all beings.
The Metta of the Buddha
The real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.
The secret of a happy life is to enjoy the passing of every hour.
Touch me and you touch my heart. Touch my heart and you touch my soul.
To be "at peace" does not mean to be in a place where there is not noise, trouble and hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things, and still be calm in your heart.
You can complain because roses have thorns. Or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.