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 seco