My massage story begins in 1918. A three-year-old girl resented her new baby brother and wished he were dead. A few days later the baby was dead. The girl didn’t know about the 1918 flu—she thought she had killed her brother. Fast-forward twenty-four years to 1942: this very same girl—now a woman—had her first child, a boy, and her long repressed guilt came flooding back. As she struggled with her feelings, her child was fed and clothed, but was touch deprived. Jump another fifty-four years to 1996.
It’s a calling, a commitment, and a challenge, but it’s not for everyone. Massage for cancer clients has moved from the “no-touch” zone to center court, bringing with it an increasing number of compassionate, dedicated therapists. But there is a caveat to this trend. Although the bodywork profession, supported by scientific research, now provides a wealth of modalities to soothe, rehabilitate, and renew hope in those enduring the ravages of cancer, it’s not a matter of simply putting hands to skin.
Once on a flight to San Francisco, I sat next to a woman who revealed she had received chemotherapy for cancer. The clinic where she had received treatment had a massage therapist who rubbed patients’ feet as they received their IV medications. My seat mate raved about how glorious it was. I asked if she could describe why the foot massage was so wonderful. It was difficult for her to put into words except to say, “It restored my confidence in the goodness of humankind.”