Just the word "cancer" often sends chills through ones spine. Many of us remember the old soap operas where a diagnosis of cancer meant you were confined to a sterile hospital bed, waiting to die a dramatic death.
Treatments today are vast and varied - many resulting in positive outcomes. Not everyone responds the same way to the same treatment, and Oncology Massage can help you or your patients deal with their symptoms, side-effects from treatment, and the mental anguish that comes with a cancer diagnosis.
Massage can be beneficial at nearly every stage of your cancer experience - during hospitalization, prior to or after surgery, during chemotherapy or radiation, while recovering at home, during remission, or at the end stages of life.
Benefits of massage during treatement can be significant. It can reduce short-term pain, anxiety, fatigue, and feelings of isolation. It can enhance your mood, contributing to better rest and an improved perception of your treatment.
Studies have shown that massage can help reduce pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can restore a feeling of wholeness to your body, and increase the range of motion and suppleness of areas affected by surgery and radiation.
Not every massage therapist may be aware of the unique considerations and medical complexities of cancer patients. You sill want to find someone who understands:
- the importance of being "present" for the patient
- the benefits and precautions to share with the patient
- the biology of cancer - how it starts, how it spreads, and its effects on the body
- the common treatments and their typical side effects
Since the main goal of an oncology massage is to increase comfort and well-being, your massage therapist will likely want to adopt the premise that less is more - using slower strokes and shorter sessions, and making sure to check in with clients the day after the massage to assess whether the session adequately addressed the patient's needs, and to plan adjustments, as needed for the next session.
Another concern for many cancer patients who have had surgery on or treatment that affected lymph nodes is lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling caused by blockage of the lymphatic system - usually in an arm or leg. It can be painful and chronic. There are massage techniques that can be used to improve swelling - there are other techniques that may make it worse. Your massage therapist needs to know the difference.
Three questions to ask your massage therapist:
- Have you received training in how to work safely with people diagnosed with cancer?
- What kind of modifications would you make based on my current status?
- What do you know about massage for people at risk of lymphedema?