By Ilyse Streim, Massage Therapist
Center for Integrative Medicine, Good Samaritan Medical Center
“Touch was never meant to be a luxury. It is a basic human need. It is an action that validates life and gives hope to both the receiver and the giver. The healing of touch is reciprocal.” –Irene Smith
What is oncology massage?
Oncology massage is a specialized massage session designed to meet the unique and changing needs of someone in treatment for cancer or with a history of cancer treatment. With gentle, nurturing touch, massage can ease the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment at any stage of the cancer journey. Potential benefits can include easing pain, nausea, peripheral neuropathy, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
To work safely and effectively with people living with cancer, massage therapists need thorough training. They must be educated in the specifics of cancer and cancer treatment, especially the side effects (both short and long term) of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. They must know how to modify the massage accordingly so additional stress is not placed on the body, adapting pressure level, positioning, and length of the massage, adjusting for mediports, bone metastases, or skin reactions to treatment.
What are people living with cancer saying about oncology massage?
“As soon as I had a surgery date, I started going in tighter and tighter circles. [Massage] was a big help in my being relaxed, but ready when the day came.”
“It’s my oasis. I get bogged down with doctors’ appointments…all these big things coming at me. I get on the massage table and everything just melts away.
“It’s like a vacation from cancer.”
The Society for Oncology Massage
An important organization, The Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM), exists to support and educate massage therapists, consumers, and health professionals about the value and specific considerations and applications of oncology massage.
The vision of S4OM is to ease the journey through cancer. Their mission is to:
- Support the safe delivery of massage to people who have been diagnosed with cancer
- Promote an oncology massage education standard
- Collaborate in research
- Make all people affected by cancer aware of the therapeutic benefit of properly adapted massage and where it is available in their communities.
- Expand the availability of qualified oncology massage wherever people diagnosed with cancer live and are treated.
- Establish, promote and maintain an ethic of care setting a high standard for the emerging field of oncology massage therapy.
- Encourage and facilitate the training of all massage therapists in the basics of oncology massage.
- Develop an educated, experienced, and cooperative community of oncology massage therapists.
- Provide a forum where oncology massage therapists can share the special challenges and joys of their work.
- Educate the medical community, people diagnosed with cancer, and their caregivers about the importance of proper training for massage therapists who work with people affected by cancer.
Ilyse Streim and Shannon Tessier are both certified oncology massage therapists at the Center for Integrative Medicine, Good Samaritan Medical Center 303-673-1615.