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Massage Today
August, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 08

The Second Oncology Massage Healing Summit

By Tracy Walton, LMT, MS

In May, I attended one of my favorite conferences of all time: "The Oncology Massage Healing Summit". The setting was fabulous. The Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota hosted the conference, and a planning committee of members of the Society for Oncology Massage put it together.

Gayle MacDonald (author of Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer), and a member of the planning committee, introduced the conference and the inspiring keynote speaker, Cathy Fanslow-Brunjes, a seasoned hospice nurse who spoke on "Hope: A Dynamic Process in Living." Conference attendees were also spellbound by a live performance of "Jonna's Body: Please Hold," an award-winning one-woman show by Jonna Tamases, a three-time cancer survivor.

Breakout sessions at the conferences were outstanding, and even if I listed them all here, I would not be able to do them justice. Presenters included oncology massage therapists, researchers, teachers, and pioneers in the field. They came from hospital settings, private practice, spas, and teaching settings. The common theme was working safely, well, and with full presence with people with cancer. I thoroughly enjoyed Toni Muirhead's session on the Lebed method (a system of movement therapy for people with cancer), Eleanor Oyston's presentation on theory and science behind gentle touch, Rene Janiece's protocol for safe work with people with lymphedema, and Cheryl Chapman's session on the psychological and emotional impact of mastectomy.

But there was much more. There were rich panel discussions and group presentations on creating your dream in oncology massage, developing community-based oncology massage clinics, the role of massage in oncology management, and teaching caregivers to massage their loved ones with cancer. There were presentations on massaging children with cancer, skin care and esthetics for cancer patients, scar and adhesion release, yoga for people with cancer, and writing successful grant proposals. There was even a live cadaver lab, and a poster session of research, case studies, and descriptions of programs in oncology massage. In-depth post-conference workshops were given by Cheryl Chapman and Jamie Elswick. It was a full and exciting weekend.

The growing global interest in massage and touch for people with cancer was evident in attendees from all over the globe: from Alaska to Australia, from Maine to Florida, and from Texas to Brazil. A dozen attendees received funding to attend from the Cynthia Delano Myers Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in honor of Dr. Myers' vast contributions to oncology massage, research, and integrative medicine. People were there from small community hospitals as well as prominent cancer centers such as MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

I was particularly moved by the strong presence of the co-sponsor, the Society for Oncology Massage, which had begun its life in discussions at the first Oncology Massage Healing Summit in Toledo in 2007. Since that time, the society has opened for membership. It now boasts an oncology massage therapist locator service, extensive educational and advocacy resources, and a clearinghouse for research, quotes, and stories. At the Society for Oncology Massage Web site (, the role of skilled, thoughtful touch in the lives of people with cancer and cancer histories is made abundantly clear. By the time the next Summit rolls around, tentatively planned at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the Society for Oncology Massage should be a fixture in cancer care.

In my experience, the best professional gatherings in the massage profession engage the full heart, mind, body, and soul. This one certainly did. As we ended with a blessing, "We are One," with voices from the Four Directions, I thought of all of the people who were touched by massage, and in particular those who navigate cancer treatment, survivorship, end of life, diagnosis and caregiving. Then, I understood the full sphere of influence of massage. It was an honor to take part in this gathering. I breathed in all of the good will and let it soak into my whole being, returning to my work with renewed energy and inspiration.

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


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