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Cancer and Massage Therapy

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What a scare one receives when the big “C” word (cancer) enters their lives. Not only is the individual affected by this devastating diagnosis, but also family, friends and community. How many of us have heartfelt reactions when we learn of someone, whether we know them or not, who is struggling to overcome some form of cancer or has lost their battle with cancer?

I undertook specialized training to provide treatment to patients undergoing complications of cancer treatment, namely lymphedema. Lymphedema has been grossly overlooked, in my opinion, within the medical community. The lymph system of the body has not been widely understood, yet it is one of the most prominent systems of the body.

Every day our cells work hard on our behalf creating energy to run our lives as we choose. That cellular work effort generates waste products that must find adequate pathways of exit, because more is coming behind it. Our bodies have two main detoxification pathways, a complex chemistry with each one; but for us, the laymen, we can rest assured that this dual mechanism works hard to keep us healthy.

With global industrialization, its myriad pollutants, and our daily exposures to these toxic elements, our dual pathways risk becoming overworked, clogged, and dysfunctional. As well, manufacturing procedures with our food sources provide us with a vast array of herbicides and pesticides that our bodies must detoxify. We consume processed foods containing many substances such as antibiotics, growth hormones, and residues of pesticides, herbicides, along with synthetic ingredients known to be carcinogenic. It is important to understand nothing has to remain stagnant for long if we inform ourselves and ultimately act upon that information. We have choices, but we must learn to make different choices if we are to assist our bodies in overcoming exposures to what we cannot control when it comes to pollution.

Understanding the biochemistry of cancer, the immune system response, the battle within our DNA, scientific applications of medical treatment, and ultimately the body’s demand for essential ingredients that support healing, repair, and restoration of optimal systems, we can find mental sustenance that a true cure exists and is forthcoming. But it is, in my mind, about synergy—body, mind, spirit, and science. It is also about our informing ourselves and changing our ways of thinking about solutions.

In the meantime, I find that the consequences of cancer treatment, both on the mental/emotional levels as well as the physical/scientific levels, respond extremely well with regular massage therapy sessions. First of all, cancer patients are poked and prodded in a clinical setting oftentimes losing their sense of self, sense of privacy, and sense of direction. “Who have I become but a guinea pig for cancer experimentation?” I am sure many patients feel this way.

Massage therapy provides a return to nature with its human touch enabling the patient to “re-feel” their “whole” body and its magnificence. But more than the so called “touchy-feely-get-back-in-touch-with -oneself” benefit, massage therapy provides for the cancer patient extended medical benefits. Here’s a partial list:

Reduction of pain and pain induced anxiety

Improved sleep patterns (Sleep is when the body does most of

its healing and repair)

Improved body image (Self esteem diminishes when we loose

our hair and body mass. Massage lets us feel ourselves

again in a healthy nurturing way associated with those who

care and see us as important and still whole human beings)

Improved white cell proliferation (These cells are our fighting army. Many die off in the battle, but massage moves debris out more quickly enabling the manufacture and acceleration of immune cells in a less waste oriented environment)

Reduces nausea and vomiting

Reduces depression

Reduces fatigue

Massage therapy for the cancer patient is enormously favorable in their healing processes. Then . . . should the cancer patient experience lymphedema, a condition that can occur following the removal of lymph nodes in strategic locations backing up the natural flow of cellular fluids and their exit from the body, specialized massage therapy assists in this endeavor by the body and enables the patient to not be debilitated by undue fluid retention, pain, and loss of the ability to use their affected limbs.

It is vitally important that massage therapists treating cancer patients have advanced education and are able to work with the oncology team when providing treatment. It is important for the oncology team to be aware of the benefits massage therapy provides for their patients and to encourage patients to seek massage therapy to alleviate their side effects and to improve their overall well being.

Krystle Shapiro is a Washington State licensed medical massage therapist. She owns Touchstone Massage Therapies located in the Stepping Stones Wellness Center at 803 W. Pine Street, Sandpoint. Krystle specializes in oncology massage therapy with emphasis on lymphedema treatment. She is currently undertaking a Master of Science of Holistic Nutrition program and can be reached at 208/290-6760.

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