People ask me all the time “what made me decide to become an oncology massage therapist”? It is second only to the question “Don’t your hands hurt you?”
So I decided to tell my story, my passion.
Twenty one years ago my father was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer. Not expected to survive, he beat the odds and overcame the cancer. That was only to survive long enough to be diagnosed with another primary cancer. This time it was lung. I was working on a hospital floor at the time he was being treated (we were both in the same hospital). My intention was always to go back to school for nursing, as I had worked so closely with the field in the job I was doing. Most of my previous credits would transfer and I thought it would be an easy transition.
I helped care for my father during his treatment. The doctors did the best they could in offering different chemotherapy cocktails. The nurses in the hospital were absolutely wonderful, as well as the hospice nurses. But toward the end of his life, I began to feel like there was something more that could be done to bring him some comfort and ease his pain. He had a bad reaction to morphine and there was little else that worked for the pain. Although all of the medical staff did a phenomenal job of caring for him, something was missing, but I didn’t know what.
It was just after my father lost his battle with cancer that the hospital that I was employed by formed a Task Force to research Integrative Medicine and how to best bring it to our facility. I signed up immediately. We researched several different kinds of complementary and alternative care methods. It was decided that massage would be one of the modalities that would be added to our new Integrative Medicine Program. I was on the fence, but it was starting to feel like a possibility for me.
I began to ask all the doctors I worked with what they thought about the idea. Ninety five percent of them all said they looked forward to the day they could write a script for massage for their patient when they felt it was appropriate. But I knew it would be an uphill climb. Hospitals were just beginning to accept and add Integrative Medicine to their facilities. Nursing would surely be the easier and more guaranteed choice. The nursing director I worked for told me flat out that I was making a bad choice, that I was “cut out” to be a nurse. She would hire me. But the pull was too strong, so I enrolled in massage school.
After completing massage school, I began furthering my studies in oncology continuing education. I never lost sight of the reason why I was returning to school. It was to offer touch in a way I was unable to do when my father was ill. I wanted to be able to do something that offered a person some relief from their pain, anxiety, sadness, or whatever they may be experiencing. Something that traditional medicine was unable to touch (no pun intended). I studied energy medicine and Reiki as well.
During the last 16 years working as an oncology massage therapist I have never once regretted my decision. It was definitely an uphill climb. There were many times that I felt like all I did was have to prove myself in my field to other health care practitioners. I earned every credential I could; I spoke at hospitals, support groups, community affairs. After many years, it has paid off. I am where I dreamed of being in my career. Most all of my clients are now physician referrals. Hospitals are continually adding more and more integrative medicine modalities to their patient care. Hospitals continue to learn and grow, with the people I touch being my best teachers.
Since my father, I have lost a father-in-law to pancreatic cancer as well as an aunt to the same disease, a brother to head and neck cancer, a lifelong friend to a rare kidney cancer and another friend to pancreatic cancer. There have been far too many others as well, but these are the ones that I walked up close and personal with. The ones I cared for, either as the primary or secondary caregiver.
Having been given the gift of caring for each of these precious people in my life, I was humbled to be able to lay my hands on them, whether it was by massage, lymphatic drainage, Reiki or some other technique, I know of no greater way to have shown my love to these courageous heroes.
Oncology Massage offers a place where a cancer patient can come and “let go”, relax; find some pain reduction and possibly some lessening of treatment side effects. A place where they can feel safe, feel good and hopefully experience the positive effects that oncology massage can offer. This is my passion, and my mission. I will continue to push forward with hospitals and health care practitioners to further advance oncology massage in the healthcare field.
So until the day that we have found a cure for cancer and eradicated it from our world, every cancer patient out there deserves no less than this. And if, by massage, I can help make a difference, no matter how small, in just one persons battle with this disease, then I shall be Blessed beyond measure and know that God has used me well.
Photo by Unsplash.