Oncology massage looks specifically at how the recipient feels on the day: where are they up to in their treatment, are they having any problems lying down, are there any IV access points, wounds or tumours to factor in to their position in a chair or on a bed or massage table.
Excitingly, research is showing that oncology massage does improve the quality of life for the person receiving massage. They experience improved relaxation and sleep quality, reduced pain, anxiety and nausea, and higher energy levels. There have any been studies that show massage prior to and after radiation or chemotherapy can make the treatment more effective, whilst reducing side effects.
When I work with a client who has cancer, I will do a comprehensive medical history check before getting the client into a comfortable position. The massage is generally gentler and slower than a standard therapeutic massage, with the goal being to bring about a deep sense of relaxation. Sometimes, if the client has received massage prior to their diagnosis, they may ask for deeper work, but this is something I will progress into over several sessions, as the pressures their body is currently under may make their response to massage quite different than usual, and the intent is to improve the way the feel.
When the body is deeply relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system is switched on, and will over ride the sympathetic nervous system. In layman's terms, the sympathetic nervous system is the "fight or flight" nervous system. It's switched on when we have to work, or, more dramatically, feel as if we are in danger.
The sympathetic nervous system diverts the body's resources, including blood flow into the heart and muscles to prepare the body to work, fight or run. In so doing, areas of the body that aren't required at that instant are deprived of blood flow, which means they are also deprived of oxygen and nutrients. The digestive system, including the gut and kidneys, and the body's repair functions slow down until the body switches back into the parasympathetic state, also known as "rest and digest".
Now, if you can imagine how a person with cancer will be feeling emotionally, you'll appreciate that they won't often be out of a sympathetic state. By giving a slow, comforting massage, I'm able to bring about a state of relaxation reasonably quickly, at which time my clients feel comforted, warm, relaxed and at ease, while their body takes time to heal and digest nutrients; stress hormones reduce, reducing pain responses.
What's more, for a short time, they are receiving kind, unconditional touch that isn't a medical exam; there are no needles, awkward positions to get into for an xray or scan, no blood pressure cuffs or thermometers, no poking and prodding and no pity, just gentle, compassionate touch.
In the past, many people have felt that massage may spread cancer as it improves circulation. This is simply not true. Yes, Massage does improve blood and lymph circulation, but so does a walk around the block, which most oncologists will recommend as part of at home management! So, massage for cancer is safe, but it is important that your therapist has an understanding of cancer and cancer treatments, in order to understand possible complications and adapt the treatment accordingly. I have completed Module 1 of Oncology Massage Training, and will be completing Module 2 by the end of October, on top of my Diploma in Massage and Clinical Sport Therapy. Furthermore, I have also had experience with cancer and treatment for it through someone very close to me, which all give me a good strong basis of knowledge, experience, empathy and compassion.
So please give generously when you see a collector this Friday, although I give me time and services free of charge, there are still costs associated with running a clinic like this, and other fantastic services that the Hawkes Bay Cancer Society give to our community.