Massage Therapists, who are working with patients in treatment for cancer, will soon learn to ask the question, “If you are taking an aromastase inhibitor, do you have joint pain?” What you will see in the response lets you know that # 1 they are thrilled that you realize it is a serious problem to them and # 2 you have your work cut out for you. AI's work by stopping the production of estrogen in post-menopausal women, which lets you realize the age group of the patients taking Arimidex, Aromasin and Femara.
For the breast cancer survivor in pain from AI's the question becomes, “do I suffer silently in pain or go off the medication?” A study that suggests the more pain the more gain with the drug. Wonderful, you either suffer through the pain or agonized on a daily basis if you have made the right decision to go off the drug.
I met a patient today who had a double mastectomy a little over a year ago. Recently finished with all of her reconstructive surgery; expanders and then implants. While giving her a chair massage she told me of widespread body pain so horrible from Aromasin that she took herself off of the medication. She mentioned to me that she has Fibromyalgia and believed that the drug made her fibro pain worse. Her doctor told her that he had never seen the connection between pain from Aromasin and fibromyalgia. That has not been my situation; I have witnessed patients with a history of muscular skeletal pains, have more pain through their treatment. Whatever the root cause, I treat them with compassion, recognize their pain and do my best to help with touch, educate and motivate them to move.
With massage and creative movement therapy my goal is to create a whole body with less tension and less pain. I demonstrate stretches and movements that lengthened from the core. I urge breathing techniques to decrease stress, encouraging incorporating movements into their daily lives that work to increase flexibility, decrease muscle tension, increase range of motion and hopefully decrease pain. I want to create a sense of joy and happiness utilizing fluid movement with each step and breath.
Oncology Massage Therapists have a relationship with our clients that place us in a unique position to help them with their quality of life. Quite possibly by helping to decrease the pain of treatment they choose to stay on a medication and increase their percentage as a long-term survivor. Who knew we could be so important? I know who, patients that have used oncology massage therapists during their treatments. Poll them, they will sing our praise.
When you first meet your new client, picture their journey. Every physician; surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist sees them as what they need to do to save their life. Kind of like 3 people looking through a keyhole at different heights, not everyone will see the same thing. They are experts in their fields and they have one goal in mind to prolong the patient's life. As Oncology Massage Therapists, our goal is to see them as a whole body, a body that has been affected by every surgery, chemo and radiation treatment. We need to use all the skills we learned in massage therapy school as well as the new skills to address the special needs of patients in cancer treatment.
The new patient has extended their hand in greeting, what did you notice about their shoulders; are they level, tight, firm, guarded? How are they standing; arms folded to protect their heart, wobbly, body turned inward and leaving forward or with locked knees? These snapshots need to be stored so that you can suggest creative movements at the end of your session. Maybe I have my sculptor's hat on and I am trying to recreate them in clay. Working as a Massage Therapist and being a potter, sculptor and dancer I try to envision the whole body in my mind, a body that is effortless in movement and anatomically correct in clay artwork. It may be impossible to create a perfect body, but the goal is to create a pain-free body.
It is more than just the bolstering and positioning on the table to make them comfortable. Look at them from the moment they come in and help them to become comfortable while they are with you and even after they leave. We need to teach them the importance of everyday activities that will open and lengthen their bodies. When we hear the chief complaint, “I'm too tired to exercise,” we must work with their energy level, fatigue is a very real symptom and this is the time to be creative with suggestions.
Demonstrate the gentle way to stand, gently sway your hips from side to side, feel the movement, and try doing a figure 8, move your right leg in and out and then the left. When they do the moves with you, you will get the response, ” I can do this .”
Move to the shoulders and show them gentle shoulder rolls, these can be done in the car, work, anywhere. Remind them that ” Motion is lotion and rest is rust .”
Take these two moves and put them together and walk with hips that now move and shoulders that are not stiff. A walk like this creates an 'Up-beat' mood. You have already put them into a massage frame of mind; send them out the door keeping that feeling alive.
When they get home, remind them that even sitting in a chair they can move their legs with knees bending and extending, feet flexing and pointing, rotating ankles and all of this while they engage their core; less energy, slow, subtle, gentle, purposeful moves.
Oncology Aestheticians are trained to understand the importance of good nutrition, how it affects the skin and under tissues. Important issues for healing heal inside and out. Oncology Massage Therapists can also be the life coach on the sideling cheering, encouraging, massaging, and motivating our clients to move. To help decrease pain is a very good thing.
Cancer survivors have long-term side effects from treatment. A successful Oncology Massage Therapist is creative when they help their client regain their quality of life through massage, movement therapy and mind-body techniques. It is not just the massage techniques that make us useful to the client.