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Massage Today
April, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 04

Cancer Treatment, Massage, and Wholeness

By Tracy Walton, LMT, MS

I worked for many months with a client while she was in cancer treatment, witnessing first-hand the effects of the treatment on her body. She was tired, in pain, nauseated, and losing weight rapidly from poor appetite. She came in one day complaining about neck pain. She had gone to a movie to try to forget (just for a couple of hours) about her cancer and the treatment, but her neck hurt so much she had to leave the movie early.

This client's story affected me deeply. On top of months of fear, worry, and pain, after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, I couldn't stand the fact that she couldn't even find 2 hours of escape in a movie. I set to work on her neck pain. I worked very gently, used energy techniques, working the muscles. I followed all the relevant contraindications. Her neck pain became my whole focus. Needless to say, I was disappointed when she didn't feel any better by the end of the session.

At her next session, she looked much better. But she cheerfully reported that the massage had given her no relief. Instead, she mentioned the pain to her doctor, who remembered to adjust some medication she was taking. She had been on the medication for years and it had caused her neck pain from time to time when the dosage was not right. Adjusting it gave her relief this time, as it had before.

Your Client's Journey

This session was a wonderful learning experience for me. On reflection, I realized that at some point in the session my original intent--to give the client relief--had become mostly about my ability, competence, and attachment to the outcome. Our focus on a "fix-it" approach can come at the expense of our clients' well-being.

Massage stones and a burning candle. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark When people are sick for a long time, they need someone to appreciate what's right about their body. Cancer treatments and other strong therapies, as well as many health care professionals, focus on the disease and the symptoms. Sometimes people don't need fixing as much as they need to be supported along a difficult path. From my own practice, and from many other oncology massage therapists, I know that massage can help a client to feel whole and perfect, no matter what else is going on.

From that session, I resolved to help with what I can, but not confuse that intention with my own ego, or lose sight of the wholeness of the person in front of me. I think that shift has helped me be more present as a therapist, and certainly less disappointed and fatigued in my work. It's made me a better companion on my client's journey.

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


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