"Maintaining order rather than correcting disorders is the ultimate principle of wisdom.
To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty"
From the Chinese Medical Classic, Nei Jing.
As a survivor I am dedicated to helping women who are going through breast cancer. It is very important for the patient to become involved and empowered in her own healing process.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago there were many myths about massage being unsafe for cancer patients. Since then this myth completely turned around and more hospitals and mainstream clinics became aware of the benefits of massage therapy and added it to their programs. Nowadays massage is widely used as part of people’s health maintenance but there are important facts about massage and cancer that people should know. As a seasoned massage therapist and instructor, I would like to assist with important questions about receiving bodywork during treatment and recovery.
There are different types of bodywork that will support a cancer patient, depending on the stage they are in their treatment process;
Energy work is soothing and balancing and helps with calming the nervous system. It is recommended for the first stages during crucial decision-making and is safe before treatment starts. It may include visualization and meditation.
Shiatsu is a form of bodywork that is based on Chinese medicine. It’s focus is on restoring Chi/Qui, rather than stimulating muscles. Chi/Qui, is believed to be the life force behind our existence. Shiatsu will help restore the body Chi/Qui flow and will help the client thrive through surgery, chemo treatments and radiation, It will help support the immune system, increase the release of toxins and decrease fatigue due to treatment. Shiatsu uses thumb and palm pressure on specific energy pathways (meridians) along the body.
Swedish massage is soothing and relaxing and especially good for recovery time after surgery and chemotherapy. Massage will restore range of motion; decrease scar tissue formation and speed release of toxins and healing of wounds. Due to the relaxing nature of the work it helps with relieving mental and emotional stress that accompanies dealing with cancer.
Myth: Massage is a luxury
Fact: There are many benefits from receiving bodywork in daily life and especially during a time of stress and health crisis. Many people use massage therapy as their regular preventative health maintenance program.
Some benefits are:
· Massage is relaxing and rejuvenating
· Calming the nervous system
· Helps you cope with mental and emotional stress
· Relief of physical pain and fatigue
· Increase flexibility and range of motion
· Speeds recovery from surgery and treatment
· Improves circulation and immune system
· Improves skin tone
· Speeds the removal of metabolic waste
Myth: Massage is NOT safe for someone newly diagnosed with cancer.
Fact: Initially, it is best to air on the cautious side and receives gentle massage techniques to help calm the nervous system, like Swedish massage, Shiatsu, Reiki, healing touch. Deep tissue work should be avoided and avoid receiving work directly on the tumor area.
Myth: Since massage stimulates the blood flow it can increase the risk of metastasis. (spreading to other parts of the body)
Fact: Massage does stimulate the blood flow but so is walking, exercising, taking a shower or a baths…all of which are highly recommended during cancer treatment.
Recent studies show that massage induces the production of the hormone Oxytocin which counter acts Cortisol also known as the “stress hormone”. Cortisol is very useful when we need the fight or flight mechanism, but under constant stress excess production of Cortisol can be harmful by decreasing the immune system response. A cancer diagnosis is very stressful and a person in susceptible to anxiety and depression. Since massage aids with the relaxation response and the release of Oxytocin it can be a major aid in strengthening the immune system and release of toxins and promote healing.
Myth: Women who had lymph nodes removed should never receive massage.
Fact: Extra caution is necessary in this case due to the risk of developing Lymphadema. Receive only light massage on the compromised quadrant of the torso (arm, chest and back) but a regular massage can be administered to the rest of the body. It is best to see a professional who is trained in oncology massage.
Is massage OK during chemotherapy and radiation?
Fact: Yes, however a waiting period of 4-7 days after chemotherapy treatment is recommended depending on the treatment and the individual. It is OK to receive bodywork during radiation, but massage and oils should not be administered to the radiated area.
How about massage after surgery?
Fact: After surgery it is recommended to wait 7 days and up to 6 weeks before receiving bodywork, depending on the type of surgery and reconstruction and healing progress. However, energy work and gentle massage to non affected areas can be administered as soon as the client feels up to it and the doctor approves it.
What about massaging around tumors?
Fact: Direct pressure to the area should be avoided. Once the tumor is removed and the wound is healed massage is very helpful to prevent scar tissue adhesions. Avoid deep massage to the quadrant of the body where lymph nodes are compromised due to the risk of Lymphadema.
If tumor is deep and cannot be removed massage should be administered with caution
Body image issues
Some women are self conscious about their body especially after a mastectomy. This is understandable and most practitioners use draping techniques which reassures the client’s privacy. If the client is not comfortable with work on the breast area, or prefer that area covered they should make sure the practitioner knows.
How can I find a practitioner?
Since cancer diagnosis requires some modifications it is best to find someone who is experienced and has Onclolgy Massage training. However, if one already has an established relationship with a practitioner, trust and rapport are just as important as skills and knowledge. It won't be a bad idea to ask the practitioner if he/she is comfortable with educating him/herself before providing massage therapy during the cancer treatment.
The Society for oncology massage has a wealth of information and a trained provider list: www.s4om.org or call your local hospital’s oncology department.
Receiving massage is a personal decision that each client should discuss with their doctor and practitioner and judge by his or her comfort level.
I offers sliding scales for people during their cancer treatment and if they experiences financial difficulties after. I also offers free healing circles and pre mastectomy “Letting go and blessings” ceremonies for patients. The ceremony may include making a plaster mold of the patient pre surgery body. Please contact me for more information.