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Massage Today
November, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 11

A Tribute to an Oncology Massage Advocate

By Tracy Walton, LMT, MS

Once in a great while, if we are lucky enough, we cross paths with an especially bright spirit. If we are particularly fortunate, we get to spend a little time learning from that person. It was my luck to meet and work with Dr.

Cynthia Delano Myers for several years before she passed away this summer after developing cancer. The massage therapy world lost a great advocate, researcher and friend of oncology massage when Dr. Myers left us, and she is dearly missed.

Cynthia, born in 1952, was an extraordinary person, with a unique ability to hold the importance of the mind, the body and the spirit in massage therapy. Her career was interesting and not at all linear. She was a bodyworker for more than 30 years, graduating from the Boulder School of Massage Therapy in 1982. Later, she attended college in her late 30s, and went on to obtain a PhD in psychology. As an academic, she researched many important questions, most of them revolving around pain and pain relief. She looked at the role of massage therapy in alleviating pain and distress in people with sickle-cell disease and cancer. She focused much of her effort on pediatric patients.

 - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo by Diego Pelaez, courtesy of the Moffitt Cancer Center. Cynthia brought her support of touch therapies to the study and practice of medicine, as a professor, researcher and massage clinician. She often presented at international conferences on pain, complementary and integrative medicine, and massage therapy. She moved easily between the worlds of academic medicine and massage, and in 2004 she became the founding director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. There, she continued her research and writing even in the months of her illness. She published in highly respected journals and completed work on many projects. She served as guest editor for a special issue on massage in the Journal of the Society of Integrative Oncology. She built strong bridges between the different disciplines involved in cancer care.

Cynthia also guided the fledgling Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM), a national organization founded to ease the journey through cancer for patients, family members and caregivers. She spoke at the first summit in 2007, where she guided massage therapists in research design and in using data to broaden the reach of our work. In her honor, the Society for Oncology Massage established the Cynthia Delano Myers Memorial Scholarship Fund. These scholarships will be awarded to individuals in need of financial support to attend the Oncology Massage Healing Summit. Although medical research can pull investigators so far into the details that the therapy itself is lost, Cynthia's vision was always holistic and clear. I recall a friendly discussion of therapists over dinner at the first Oncology Massage Healing Summit. We went around the table, each answering the question, "What is healing about massage therapy?" When Cynthia spoke, she said that, while she thought it was important to study massage therapy, it might not be possible to pin down each therapeutic element through rigorous research. Instead, she said, "I think it might be who we are, rather than exactly what we do, that is healing."

Her words resonate, and are some comfort, given that Cynthia could have had several more decades of productive work left, work she was doing on behalf of our profession and our clients. Her words remind me that our work can endure long after we've moved on. Skilled, corrective touch changes things for the better. It changes people, and the ripples continue to move, even long after we've removed our hands.

Cynthia cared passionately about social justice, health care access, and people who were underserved. On all levels, she worked to leave this world so much better than she found it. She was a blessing to everyone she touched. And she touched many. All of us in massage therapy benefit from her work, in hidden ways, whether we knew her or not. Who she was and what she did with her life, serves as an inspiration to all of those who touch people with cancer.

Donations to the Cynthia Delano Myers Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made to the Society for Oncology Massage. Those wishing to donate may designate the "Myers Memorial Scholarship Fund" on the check and send it to Linda Dwyer, S4OM Treasurer, 183 Lake Front, Rochester, N.Y. 14617. Donations are tax-deductible.

Click here for more information about Tracy Walton, LMT, MS.


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