If you or a loved one are facing the many challenges of cancer, massage and other skilled touch techniques can be your ally. For patient and caregiver alike, taking the time for a soothing and nurturing massage can be truly worthwhile, even in a schedule crowded with appointments. Caring, professional touch can ease pain, relax mind and body, and restore your body’s own healing resources.
Relieving Your Discomfort
Many people find that when medication doesn’t completely ease their pain, massage helps. It can ease muscle tension, help eliminate irritating toxins and decrease achiness caused by forced inactivity. In addition, massage can reduce the discomforts of nausea, fatigue and insomnia. Most of all, massage offers deep relaxation of body and mind that can bring profound relief. As you let go and focus on the comfort of nurturing touch, pain and anxiety loosen their grip. Your physical and mental load can lift, often increasing your sense of energy and optimism. This welcome respite can extend into the hours and days beyond your sessions.
Support For Your Recovery
Touch therapies can support recovery in a number of ways. Massage can increase circulation and speed healing in tissues affected by surgery or radiation. Certain advanced techniques, applied
with caution, can reduce swelling and restore pliability to scarred areas. In addition, due to its
ability to decrease muscle tightness and increase range of motion, massage can help you feel more
like stretching, exercising and enjoying recreational activities as you recover. Finally, as massage
reduces pain and stress, your body is better able to rally its healing capabilities on all levels.
Your Emotional Well-being
No matter what your stage of treatment, skilled and caring touch can affirm that life still holds warm, positive experiences. A one-on-one massage session can nurture you while you are undergoing treatment or adjusting to physical changes, such as a mastectomy or hair loss. If you have encountered changes in your activity levels or social network, or are coping with fear, anxiety or depression, massage can provide a time for self care and acceptance of tender emotions. In cases where cancer is no longer treatable, attentive touch may provide the most consoling kind of support a person can receive.
What Research Says
Many hospitals, such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Stanford University Hospital, provide touch therapies for cancer patients. Research confirming the benefits of
these therapies is appearing in numerous reputable journals such as Journal of Pain and Symptom
Management; Annals of Internal Medicine and Cancer Nursing. Studies have found that cancer
patients variously experienced less pain, anxiety, nausea or fatigue, increased their immune response,
and felt more relaxed after receiving massage or other touch therapies.
Part Of Your Health Care Team
It is now generally accepted by the medical profession that gentle, professional touch can reduce many of the discomforts of cancer and its treatment. Your care is complex, however, so inform your physician or patient care team before receiving massage. Your therapist needs to be kept up-to-date on your treatment in order to determine what is appropriate. For example, vigorous pressure is rarely advisable during or immediately following medical treatment. If you have had lymph nodes removed or other surgical treatment, be sure to let your therapist know. A massage therapist trained in working with cancer patients can answer any questions about receiving massage.
Meeting Your Individual Needs
Everyone is different, and depending on where you are in your treatment, your needs may also differ
from one session to the next. Communicating with your therapist is very important. Many people are
sensitive to pressure and prefer a light touch. Let your therapist know if anything is uncomfortable,
for example if pressure is too much or too little, if an area is extra-sensitive, or if scents from are irritating. Your massage therapist can offer extra pillows or bolsters for your comfort if needed. It is not
necessary to lie in a particular position, such as face down. In fact, therapists can massage a
person confined to a bed or a wheelchair. Keep in mind that, like any input to your system, massage can tax your energy. Short sessions may be best at first, to help you and your therapist judge
what works for you. Depending on your stamina and pain levels, your therapist may want to adjust
or reschedule a session. Marie Wagner, LMT will work with you in partnership to determine the approach and technique that best meets your needs.
The Gift of Touch
No matter what stage of cancer you are experiencing, massage therapy offers a chance to let go and receive the healing effects of relaxation. Under the nurturing hands of your practitioner, you will be cared for with a therapy that addresses not your disease, but you as a whole person. Even in a crowded schedule, you will find massage to be a completely different experience — a restorative and healing respite.