It was not very long ago that it was thought that cancer patients should never receive massage for fear of spreading the disease. In fact, when I went to massage school that’s just what we were taught. But over the past twenty years or so, the thinking on all that has changed. Numerous studies have shown that with advanced, specialized training massage therapists can provide safe and effective therapeutic touch for those who are currently in treatment, and for those who have a history of cancer.
After taking a detailed medical history, gaining an understanding of the nature and location of the disease, and adhering to the massage therapy pressure scale protocol *, the many benefits of therapeutic massage can be shared with those who can benefit significantly from them.
In fact, many of the leading cancer centers in the U.S. today offer massage therapy for their cancer patients because they understand that while in treatment patients are being touched a lot, but not necessarily in a way that feels good to them. They know from the feedback patients give them that receiving a massage can make a real difference. The “big five” symptoms that cancer patients report as most difficult for them are: pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Research studies have shown a significant reduction in all five symptoms in patients after receiving massage, providing relief that can last hours, days, or even weeks.
And what about the weeks, months, and even years after surgery/treatment is over? Friends, family, and clients of mine who have shared their cancer stories with me have taught me that finding a “new normal” can be a very big challenge indeed and that every experience is unique, just like that person.
The massage therapist who works with a cancer survivor needs to know how to ask the right questions to get the whole picture. She should have studied the lymphatic system and understand that anyone who’s had even one lymph node removed may have a lifelong risk for developing lymphedema. But if performed appropriately and safely by a therapist who has had oncology massage training — a person who has had cancer recently, or long ago, can enjoy the many well-documented benefits that therapeutic massage offers.
As I have often said, I believe that therapeutic touch has the power to help us feel more at home in our bodies and more connected in our lives.