Just recently there has been some controversy surrounding cancer and the pros and cons of massage and aromatherapy for oncology patients. Since this is an area I will, hopefully, be shortly moving into as a volunteer, I have been doing some research with the intent of designing new oncological therapy techniques; based on an original concept by a Holistic therapist in Australia. My new primary aroma-massage; designed especially for cancer patients is called “Compassionate Healing.” It’s not about healing the disease itself but about bringing peace in mind, body and soul to those who are going through this terrible suffering.
We all know someone who has had cancer and if we don’t, chances are we will before our own time is up. Yet, what do we really know about this disease apart from the fact that it’s a silent killer for which there is still no known cure; although nowadays there are a lot of treatments that are proving to be effective in many cases.
Please let me add here that although alternative therapies such as Aromatherapy Massage, Reiki, Ayurveda, Reflexology, Indian Head Massage etc. may bring relief to patients who have cancer, they are by no means a cure. They are complimentary. They can and should only be used, in my opinion, as an integrative part of conventional medicine.
I could go on and on about the benefits of Holistic Therapies but I’m sure you’ve all heard them a million times before. What I will say is that “touch” is extremely important for any human being, but it’s probably more important to cancer patients, or any patient for that matter, who gets poked and prodded around all day by needles and is subjected to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
An oncology patient’s body is subjected to such harsh procedures and conditions that it becomes almost abused by medical standards. Of course, it’s a necessary part of the medical healing process, yet it’s surprising how many times even relatives find it difficult to touch a body that changes beyond their own recognition of it; unless it’s to feed it, wash it or give it a kiss on the forehead. Sometimes, even the cancer patients themselves feel detached from their own ever-changing body.
A simple yet loving touch from another human being is sufficient to reconnect an oncology patient to his or her own body. A gentle caress, a soft massage, a kind stroke of the hand is enough to bring peace of mind, relaxation, appease fear and depression, create an atmosphere of positivity, create distraction, alleviate tiredness and, of course make them feel safe, secure and loved.
If a Holistic treatment is administered under the proper conditions, with maximum care and abiding by certain cautious guidelines, it can also help to alleviate the feelings of weakness, dizziness and/or sickness after medical treatments like chemotherapy.
Up until recently, in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, Oncology wards in mainstream hospitals used Holistic Health Therapies and Aromatherapy Massage as a means of bringing relief to cancer patients. Not to mention that Eastern cultures have been using Holistic concepts of Healing since time began.
Yet, the big question that has sparked controversy and that everyone is trying to answer is:
”Can massage and aroma-massage spread cancer?”
Well, my research leads me to the conclusion that scientifically, there is no evidence to prove that it can; not any more so than exercising anyway. By the same token, there is also no real evidence to prove that it can’t if it misused.
However, if massage or aroma-massage is conducted under appropriate circumstances, abiding by certain conditions and using specific techniques, then it is perfectly safe, but the therapist would have to have medical knowledge, specific oncological knowledge and a great deal of compassion and intuitive knowing.
Why? - Simple -
As we all know our bodies are made up of millions of different cells. Over time, these cells become damaged or old, due to the physical conditions they are subjected to, and they die. They are replaced with new cells. Only, sometimes, the new cells can be damaged to due their DNA content. This means they can mutate and develop abnormally. When this happens, we call the cells cancer cells. This abnormal development of cells may form a mass; a whole bunch of cells clustered together in what is known as a tumour.
When we think or hear the word tumour we automatically panic. However, not all tumours are necessarily harmful, nor are they necessarily cancerous in nature. Hence, we use the terms benign and malignant to determine the two different types of tumours.
If a tumour is benign it basically means the cells do not spread to another part of the body. According to medical research in current standing, benign tumours can be removed safely and upon removal, probably won’t come back. Personally, I think there is a lack of sufficient scientific evidence, in this area, for the latter part of this statement to be true. Reason being, I had a gentleman client who was prone to benign tumours. It seems that the more consultants surgically removed the benign tumours from his body, the more they appeared.
Without his complete medical history, I could not determine the exact locations nor prove or disprove any personal theories. However, this one individual case was enough to raise concern and doubt in my mind, and considering that there are always exceptions to all general theories in science, I think it is a noteworthy fact not to be dismissed.
On the contrary to its counterpart, when a tumour is malignant, something called metastasis occurs. This basically means the cells that have clustered together: start to break off. When these cells break away from the cluster, they travel through the blood system and/or the lymph system into other areas of the body; attacking it or invading it.
The one thing we need to understand about cancer is that there are over 100 different types. They do not all behave the same way. They do not all form tumours. They do not all start in the same areas or necessarily for the same reasons. Moreover, no two individuals will respond to cancer and subsequent cancer treatments in the same way either. Cancer may start in a singular cell in a major organ just as easily as it may start on the skin or in the in the bone marrow or the blood itself.
Some cancer patients may have lumps, others may have red swollen areas. Some may have very subtle signs of the disease. Some cancer patients may have cancer in one area of the body and suffer pain in a completely opposite area. This is where training in Kinesiology comes in very useful.
Anyone who wants to massage or touch a cancer patient should be very aware of any areas that are “off limits.” Any areas that are being treated, any areas that are bruised, swollen, red, or have broken skin are all off limits!
Also, common sense might dictate that directly and harshly massaging a tumour could potentially cause the cells to break away from the cluster and travel into the body. So, in this respect, one has to question whether there is potential danger of causing metastasis through massage. I can see, from this point of view, where the controversy might arise, but, directly massaging a tumour if off limits, so there is no reason for concern. You never massage a tumour!!!
The most important things are that there should be a) thorough communication between the therapist and the cancer patient in a prior interview; b) the therapist should be flexible and have the ability to design new techniques and methods of treatment around the patient’s needs and c) any touch should be loving and compassionate not of technique learnt in a school nor of the ego. The cancer patient and their body should be listened to and paid attention to at all times.