Many moons ago, when I attended massage school, the prevailing doctrine was that one should not massage someone with cancer. The belief was that, by increasing circulation, we might set off tumor cells to other parts of the body, and therefore “spread cancer”.
Fortunately, that teaching has been laid to rest, and people challenged with cancer can now receive the many benefits that massage and reflexology have to offer.
I love that I am able to provide comfort and symptom relief to people who are regularly poked and prodded while fighting cancer. It’s been a sizable part of my clinical practice over the years, and even more significantly, something I was able to offer my own father in his last days of battling lung cancer.
How cancer spreads
The spreading of cancer within the body is not a by-product of increased circulation.
Metastasis (the development of secondary malignant growths at a distance from a primary site of cancer) is a very complex process. In simple terms, metastasis develops from a convergence of:
- Genetic mutations, both inherited and acquired, that cause uncontrolled cell proliferation
- A lack of cell surface adhesiveness
- Secretion of degradative enzymes
- New capillary growth
Avoiding comfort-oriented bodywork will not stop malignant cells from slipping away from the original tumor. It will, however, deny people with cancer the many benefits we have to offer.
Reflexology poses fewer contraindications for working with cancer patients than does massage therapy. Reflexology contraindications for someone with cancer are the presence of fever, a severely reduced platelet count (<50,000 u/l) and recently radiated tissue. Beyond that, I rely on the person to inform me of whether or not they want to receive therapeutic touch that day, for how long and with what pressure.
The intent of my sessions is deep relaxation of the entire body and sometimes a focus on helping to manage troublesome side effects of chemotherapy treatment like nausea, lack of appetite, low energy, peripheral neuropathy symptoms and hand and foot syndrome.
For me, working with people fighting for their lives is a privilege. What has been your experience working with people with cancer?