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.”
Like most attorneys, Jo Anne Adlerstein is a fiend for the kind of research that can make or break a case. So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 1998, she used her research skills to find out all she could about how to fight the disease that invaded her body.
It’s a typical day at the oncology clinic. Several patients distractedly thumb through magazines in the waiting room, not really interested in reading the pages. They wait anxiously for consultations and treatments. In one exam room, Susan, a 43-year-old artist and mother of two, receives the diagnosis she did not want to hear – malignant breast tumor. A lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation are the recommended course of treatment. In the chemotherapy room, a man sits silently while the nurse adjusts a catheter that will deliver the drugs into his chest.
When cancer is diagnosed, many fears can arise in the mind of the patient. What will happen to my body, my family, my career? Can I stand the pain? Will I survive? Foreboding thoughts of disfigurement, difficulty in daily functioning and physical discomfort come to the forefront. Pain can be a constant reminder of the ravaging, internal monster cells hell-bent on bodily destruction. And frequently pain and anxiety reinforce each other, leading to chronic distress. Although pharmacologic pain treatments are standard, they don’t always provide the relief needed.