My name is Rachel, a Certified Massage Therapist at Elements Therapeutic Massage in Thousand Oaks, California. In addition to my traditional massage training, I am certified in Massage for those living with Cancer and Massage in the Oncology Setting. I have been trained in applying massage to a wide range of disorders, including MS, HIV/AIDS, Diabetes, Fibromyalgia and scoliosis.
I am writing on massage targeted to medical issues, as I understand that there are many questions and also some concerns about people receiving massage if they have been diagnosed with a serious illness. My first topic is massage for those living with Cancer, and I will start today by sharing the story of why I entered the massage field and decided to specialize in Oncology Massage.
In 1999, my older brother Alex was diagnosed with Laryngeal Cancer; this cancer is thought to be one of the slower growing kinds. In his case it was aggressive, it would disappear, come back, grow and metastasize. At that time there were many treatments, ideas and hopes, none of them came easily. He was put in a specially built cage, where radiation lasered the tumors and burned his throat; he was given so many different pills, of all colors and shapes and sizes. He even underwent a surgery to remove his larynx, to be replaced with part of his pectoralis (chest) muscle. In the end, he began Chemotherapy, which he did not survive. He passed away in early 2002, shortly after his 41st birthday.
We in the immediate family, along with many friends, spent time with him – read his long notes and emails, took him on special day trips, and drove him to hospital visits while we waited on good news. But no one, not even the specialists knew how to help him feel better in his heart, or allay the brutal isolation that cancer brought. Because we were not in his shoes, and he could not speak, it was difficult to know how to approach the simple pain and sadness of living with such a brutal disease. We simply did not know how.
Until one day, while listening to doctors talk to my mom about him and over him, I noticed one of his hospital socks (the ones with the non-stick bubbles on the bottom) had twisted around a bit, and I started fixing it. My hands were on him feeling his frail ankles and feet, touching this man, this brother, whom I loved so much. I started holding and rubbing just his soles at first, gentle strokes, to let him know I could SEE what he was going through, and that I cared. I could not cure him, or give him good news most of the time, or let him know all the big things I was feeling, but this, this simple touch, I could do.
From the first touch of my hands on his foot, I noticed a calm begin to come over him. I saw his calf lower to the bed, and his other foot move closer to me, drawn to that simple connection. I suddenly saw a way for me to connect with him, beyond letter writing or reading, beyond the silent moments, the awkward conversations where I felt so inadequate. I took hold of both feet, and he let me move them a bit closer, and I saw his eyes even close briefly. He was connecting with the feeling of my hands stroking and holding his feet.
One of the most painful things about Alex's time with cancer is that we were all worried about touching him, he was so frail-looking, and experiencing so much pain from the medications, that we simply did not want to make it worse. I don’t even remember a doctor suggesting anything about touching him. Since then, I have learned a lot about the amazing and healing properties of touch with illness. But at that time I knew next to nothing, except that this simple touch calmed him. I am so thankful I touched his foot that day and got to be that source of comfort and connection.
So I decided that this was something I would do, and I went to massage school with the express purpose of learning how to give massage to others who might be feeling that much pain, sadness, isolation or anger, as a way to keep giving, in his name, what I had only been able to actually give him for way too short of a time.
Please check back for my next piece on the benefits of Oncology (Cancer) Massage