I was in fifth grade when my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer. My father was a Colonel and Dr. in the Air Force and my mother was a Nurse Practitioner. I was the youngest of all the children and adopted, so naturally, they tried to shelter me from my mother’s illness and treatments. We almost lost her twice but she pulled through. Later, when I was 26 years old we would discover that the cancer had come back and had spread throughout her body.
Growing up, I always felt like my family was very affectionate, but my mother would never let me give her a massage when I was in school, or even after I had become an Instructor. I was never sure if it was because it would be difficult for her to relax or due to not enjoying massage therapy in general. Now after years of being in the business, I have found that there are some people who just don’t enjoy being touched in that way. When she was diagnosed the second time with cancer things took a turn….laying in bed constantly produced pain and nothing seemed to help reduce the pain or help her sleep until she had her first massage. When I was first in massage therapy school they taught that it was contraindicated to massage a person who had cancer. They thought the cancer would spread if you pushed on the muscle and helped with circulation. Now 17 years later, research and studies show that massage helps patients diagnosed with cancer in many ways and does not help spread the disease. Luckily, I knew better and did not deny my mother of what she needed the most at that time.
Few things in my life have been as intimate as when I massaged her until she passed away. I would drive two hours home from Dallas on the weekends and she would be waiting for me. All week she would wait and ask when I was coming home so she could be touched. This experience and a phone call would lead me to Austin to get certified in Oncology Massage Therapy. Sitting in my office one day I received a phone call from a woman in Austin, TX. Her Aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer and lived in Plainview,TX, where she was needing an experienced oncology massage therapist to come out once a week. Not having any luck finding a therapist in Plainview to go to a home, she started looking up massage therapists in Lubbock. Finding it impossible to find a therapist who had Oncology Massage experience or that would go to someone’s home, I started driving from Lubbock to Plainview once a week to massage Mrs. R until she passed away. This made me realize that there is a need and that I needed to finally take an Oncology Course.
The Tracy Walton Oncology Massage Course is one of the best in the Country and is taught all over the world. It just so happened that they were offering the course in Austin and I immediately signed up. Not really knowing what to expect except that it would be emotional for me. What I found out on the first day of class was that it would also be emotional for everyone else taking the course. People from all over the U.S. had traveled to take this class. We all took our seats which were around the room in a big circle and we were instructed to tell a little about ourselves and then we were to give a name. The name of the person who was the reason we were taking the class to begin with. The name would then be written on the board for us to see every day and was moved to whatever classroom we were working in. My mother’s name is JoAnn and she is on the bottom right.
We started each day with a time of silence and meditation and then had the opportunity to tell the class what word came to our minds during the silence. This was my first real experience with meditation and just learning how to clear my head. It’s something that I now do from time to time when feeling overwhelmed. We had to learn how to do this in order to prepare our minds, hearts and hands to touch a patient who had been diagnosed with cancer. We had to be able to touch with a certain intent. We practiced this and also holding before we started practicing Oncology Massage in the classroom. Holding is where you can take the clients head in your hands and hold it and be still, while you ground yourself and get ready for the session.
Not only was there a lot of material to cover every day but we had to learn how to assess the client and then change the massage and bolstering to the client’s needs using a decision tree based on the type of cancer and treatments they were receiving. Things we take into consideration are the type of cancer, location of tumors and radiation therapy etc. Here is a picture I took of the class learning how to bolster appropriately
Hearing other students open up about their experiences and why they were there helped us form a bond while we studied and practiced on each other. Through a lot of book work and practice, I was able to finish the Oncology Massage Therapy Course and walk away feeling like I had a very real experience. I have taken many Massage Continuing Education Courses but had never walked away with this feeling. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mother and I was thankful for the opportunity to learn how to massage clients with cancer appropriately.
We were all given a piece of paper with a quote to read out loud. The picture below is the quote I was given to read to the class…