Using Medical Massage Therapy to Treat Cancer – A Must!

A note from Hope McDonald, Massage Therapist – YAO Bodywork 1.10.18

This just in…A sweet friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer – just had the most demoralizing and humiliating experience I think anyone with cancer can have! She was turned away from a spa offering massage services because she has cancer!

This breaks my heart more than you know!!!!! It is my desire to tell the truth, as I know it, about Cancer, Massage and …COMPASSION!

Cancer is Not Contagious…

Cancer is NOT contagious and nor does it spread when massage is applied. Many years ago, massage therapists were trained NOT to massage anyone with cancer for fear of dislodging tumors and potentially spreading the cancer further via the lymphatic system. Clearly this was of great concern as it was of utmost importance to the therapists to provide healing assistance and certainly not anything that could possibly worsen the condition. It was also an important issue for the profession of massage therapy. Massage therapists have historically been made out to be less than professional at times and therefore making every effort to be as professional and scientific about the application of massage was a high priority.

Sadly some of the people who most needed touch and reassurance are those of us going through great challenges such as cancer. Our friends and loved ones can shy away from those going through cancer due to their own fears not necessarily of contagion, but of fear of loss. This can leave the person most in need of touch and love well out of the loop of love and kindness…and not a good place to be when you are working hard to overcome a massive bodily imbalance.

The New Paradigm of Cancer and Massage

The good news is that a lot of research has been done on the benefits of massage and treating cancer patients and thankfully the old mindset and understanding of cancer and the application of massage has changed! ( From 2011 The Progression of Oncology Massage )

Massage is the main umbrella which houses a multitude of modalities – many of which have been shown to benefit those going through cancer in any stage. Energy work: reflexology, reiki, healing touch, cranio-sacral, MLD – manual lymphatic drainage, SMRT – Selective Muscle Release Technique, etc…. the list goes on. One of my favorite resources around this is the book Medicine Hands by Gayle McDonald. I will hold my hand up… I too was concerned about how massage could affect those battling cancer, then I read this book and my eyes grew wide and my practice changed drastically.

Things to Consider

The important thing to consider when working with cancer patients is their immune system and lymphedema. Certain modalities; e.g. Deep Tissue, NMT, GuaSha, etc…. the deeper and more aggressive modalities, if you will, could potentially cause some nausea, swelling and bruising. Do keep in mind that these types of modalities can cause these symptoms in the cancer free population as well. That being said, it’s probably best to request that your therapist go on the gentle side if you are going through cancer treatment. The last thing you may want if you are going through cancer treatment is to be any more nauseated then you may already be!

Um…a Little Compassion?

Compassion goes a long way and once I’ve discussed a lot of these concerns with my clients and they still wish to receive massage – we work together. We work slow and we work within their comfort zone. Massage and the benefits for cancer patients outweighs some temporary nausea – which in my experience is the worst that has happened.

Many massage therapists are so afraid to work with cancer patients for fear of the old out-dated belief that massage will spread the cancer, that they turn cancer patients away. This is not only not good practice, it is also incredibly humiliating and damaging for the individual approaching the therapist!

Come One Come All

YAO will never turn anyone away. We can always find a happy agreed upon place to do the work that needs to be done. If you need ‘healing touch’ you will get healing touch! We work with you to assess where you are at in your treatment and how we can work together. Massage is a wonderful healing and nurturing modality for any medical condition!!!! And I commit to you that I will never personally turn you or your friend/loved one away!

Please share this with anyone you know going through cancer or any other therapists that you feel may still be confused on the issue. We look forward to seeing you soon at YAO Bodywork!

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