Why Oncology Massage?

The question “Why oncology massage?” is often asked when I talk with clients and groups about Wellspring Journey. My oncology massage teacher and guru, Tracy Walton, mentions in an article she wrote for Massage Today , “The word cancer represents more than 200 different diseases.” Each having different treatments and combination of treatments.” Each treatment comes with it’s own set of side effects. Sometimes the treatment of side effects brings on other problems. And then there is the human being factor – that, while we’re the same species we’re all different. Age, activity level, genetics, everything.

Each individual is different. When individuals start their journey with cancer, the starting point looks different from person to person. Some start as physically active, high energy people. Others may be more sedentary. During the intake interview I take into consideration the activity level before diagnosis and treatment, and, more relevant to the immediate massage, what their activity level is like at the time of their visit.

The kind of cancer and location can make a difference in the treatment and side effects. I have two good friends who have different kinds of breast cancer in their history. One was given the option of a lumpectomy and chemo or a mastectomy. The mastectomy had much better outcome of getting rid of the cancer. That is what she chose. No lymph removed or damaged. She had surgery, rehab, and has been cancer free for over 10 years. The other friend was not given this choice. Her breast cancer was of a different kind. She had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Her treatment went on for a year. She suffered some side effects. Some lymph nodes were removed. She has been cancer free for 8 years. Based on their treatment alone, I would approach massage for these two differently.

Treatments and the effects can vary. Some treatments knock people out, causing any combination of exhaustion, nausea, diarrhea, mouth sores to name a few. And then I’ve massaged people who are waiting for the side effects to start but nothing much happens. An oncology massage therapist is trained to look at the different treatments and to analyze when and how to adjust the session so this person gets the most benefit from a massage. When is the massage too difficult for that person to manage. What positions, pressure, and strokes all are thoughtfully and carefully considered. There is a more complex set of criteria to consider for someone coming to my office than for someone I massage as an inpatient.

Age varies. Sometimes being younger means being better able to cope with the challenges of the disease and treatment….sometimes not. When I asked my mom’s specialist how long she had been living with colon rectal cancer her doctor thought at least 5 years. I thought this seemed like a long time that she had lived with it but her doctor said that, in her experience, this cancer is slower growing in the elderly. She felt it moves much more rapidly in someone younger, suggesting that what may have taken 5 years for my mom at 84 would have taken less than a year for someone under 45. A young age can be a benefit. My research for massage of people receiving bone marrow transplant suggests that sometimes the younger the patient the less complications – partly because the body hasn’t aged and there is such vitality.

Our oncology massage training also helped us to be aware that we are with this person to witness their story. This is a reoccurring theme at Wellspring Journey, to be a present, grounded, nonjudgmental support. Our training allows us to bring knowledge based, safe comfort to the journey.

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