"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou
Time and time again I hear the same misinformation .... “Oh, you shouldn’t massage people with cancer – it’s dangerous!! You’ll spread the disease!!!” What a load of rubbish!!! Is it not bad enough that these poor souls have this terrible disease in the first place and now you're taking caring touch away from them too?!
"Massage therapy is not contraindicated in cancer patients; massaging a tumour is, but there is a great deal more to a person than their tumour." - Bernie Siegel, MD
This myth seems to be still floating around from a time many decades ago where we thought cancer spread in the blood and that massage would lead to metastasis. Thanks to modern science we now know that cancer cells spread through the lymph. Cancer spreads due to biochemical forces and metastasis will occur even if the person is completely sedentary. Yes, comfort oriented massage does stimulate the flow of lymph around the body, but only as much as walking up a flight of stairs, shopping or caring for children. These are all activities that most doctors would encourage their patients to engage in.
In fact, when I did my Swedish massage training there was actually an oncologist on my course training because she wanted to be able to offer this support to her patients. Both of us went on to do further training with the Iris Cancer Partnership studying under the world-renowned Gayle Macdonald who pioneered oncology massage in Portland, Oregon.
Here’s the caveat: it is really important to find someone who has done this extra training. The reason for this is that people who have or have had cancer, come with extra needs! I say that with all the love in the world because quite frankly we all have extra needs. However, what I mean by this is that we might have to think about position because of surgery, a medical device, scarring, swelling, pain, etc. They might have sites we need to avoid e.g. a wound, radiation site, tumour site, drain, neuropathy, etc. We also need to adjust the pressure that we use so that it is appropriate to the person on the couch. They may have a lymphedema risk, fragile or sensitive skin, fatigue, swelling, recent surgery, fragile bones and the list goes on.
Comfort oriented massage is about helping you find your new normal. It’s about giving you back control over your own body. Very often people can be diagnosed and before they know it they’ve had chemo, surgery and are scheduled for radiotherapy before they’ve even had time to come up for air. Massage gives you the chance to get to know yourself again.
Massage has many other benefits for someone experiencing cancer. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system helping to reduce stress and bring the body back into a balanced state. Normality resumes, our heartbeat slows, our blood pressure lowers, blood flows to the skin and other organs bringing nutrients and oxygen, and digestion and elimination resume. The body can rest and healing can occur.
I had a client recently who because of misinformation had been too scared to have a massage since going into remission a few years ago. I spent time answering her questions, explaining that it couldn’t do any harm and about how it spreads. We talked about positioning and I explained why I would use a certain pressure for most of her and that I would use a much lower pressure around where she had lymph nodes removed. (For those of you wondering it’s to minimise any risk of causing lymphedema). Throughout the massage, I asked what it felt like and what she was noticing and we adjusted accordingly. At the end, I asked how she felt, her response was one of the best things I have ever heard. Smiling she said: “I feel like my body has come alive”. That is how I hope everyone feels when they get off my massage couch but especially those who really deserve a treat.
This type of massage isn’t just suitable for people living with cancer, it would also be wonderful for people with other illnesses which can have similar needs for example MS, Chronic Fatigue, fibromyalgia and chronic inflammatory conditions. The purpose is to provide comfort and relief without leaving you feeling wiped out.
If you would like to read more about comfort orientated massage I highly recommend Gayle MacDonald’s book Medicine Hands.
To book a massage appointment with Harriette call 01224 969637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Medicine Hands - Gayle MacDonald.
Corbin, L., 2005. Safety and efficacy of massage therapy for patients with cancer. Cancer control, 12(3), p.158.
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