There are times in a person’s life when trials and tribulations arise that are beyond the scope of imagination. You think, “This could never happen to me,” or, “This is all a big mistake.” But in the crazy and unpredictable years we have on this planet; things do happen, people do fall ill, relationships do end and begin anew. In the spa world, our job as therapists is to support, care for, and nurture the client in as many ways as we can. Sometimes, this involves listening to them talk on and on about that annoying boyfriend they just broke up with while massaging them. Sometimes, it’s the teenage daughter that they just don’t know what to do with while we’re waxing their eyebrows. And sometimes, it’s much more. Here at AgeLess SPA, we are continuously striving to provide the best possible care to our clients, no matter what their goals or needs. And we are so excited to begin offering one treatment in our Horseheads location that is designed to go above and beyond when it comes to care and support, the oncology massage.

          Go back several decades, and the mere suggestion of undergoing cancer treatment while simultaneously getting massaged on the regular was frowned upon. In a time when more standard approaches to medicine and health were the majority, there was simply not enough research regarding massage and its effect on the body to know whether the pressure and manipulation of fluids would speed up the spread of tumors or not. Once diagnosed, it was usually the same old routine: visit the oncologist’s office, endure time in your local hospital, undergo chemo and radiation, and hope that it works. While this is still pretty normal and can be a literal life-saver, we now know that there are a plethora of other options out there to provide not only physical but mental and spiritual support to the patient.

          But backing up, let’s explore some of the myths and arguments behind cancer and the world of massage that, in the past, have discouraged clients from seeking this incredible form of care.

          The first and probably most heard of debate is that the spread of blood, lymph, and other bodily fluids when on the massage table can also increase the spread of cancer cells. Such reports state that massage is only advisable if it is performed well away from the affected area. For instance, if a patient has been diagnosed with breast cancer, massage techniques would only be performed confidently on the extremities like the arms and legs, and never the chest area. While it is still advisable today to avoid the direct area of concern while the patient is on the table, the amount of daily activities they often perform while going about their day to day life (a run or workout at the gym, for example) can speed up the circulation of fluids just as much, if not more, than a one hour massage. Therefore, this argument can only be taken so far.

          The second argument regarding massage and oncology patients has been that the level of concern regarding boosting the circulation of any kind ends when cancer treatment starts because the treatments are simply supposed to work on their own. Patients are often laid up in bed for days at a time, with very little thought given to exercise or movement. This only serves to strengthen the first argument that circulation is a detriment to cancer treatment. However, if blood, lymphatic fluids, and cancer cells were truly spread through an increase in circulation, then, in theory, the patient should not engage in any movements that spread fluid- walking, exercising, driving, even sexual activity. And who’s to say when this advice would no longer apply? Even if a patient is in remission or has been cancer-free for thirty years, the thought that cells spread through a rise in circulation discourage movement altogether, and an unhealthy, unfulfilling, sedentary lifestyle.

          The third myth on this subject is that massage therapists offering oncology massage are doing so based solely on personal opinion, not cold, hard facts. While there is still much to be learned about how massage techniques can help or hinder cancer patients, we have come a long way from the days when stepping foot into a spa or therapist’s office was a blatant and unsympathetic “no.” Research is continuously being done to further our understanding of this topic, and therapists who reach out for oncology training are bombarded with a load of data originating from credible sources such as hospitals, pharmacists, physical therapists, physicians, and the like. Therapists often attend classes at schools completely separate from their original school of licensure, thus adding a significant amount of hours to their roster of experience. And because of this, it ensures (to a point) that the therapists who are emerging with this new and exciting education are individuals who care deeply about the subject and want to deliver this type of care.

          If you were to Google search “oncology massage contraindications,” you are likely to find pages and pages of other “research-based” reasons why stepping into a massage therapist’s office is unacceptable while undergoing treatment for or having survived cancer. Some of them simply need more research in order to understand their own argument fully. Some are outdated and haven’t caught up with the newest findings out there. Others are simply not true. At the end of the day, the best rule to abide by is simply to do what feels right and do your research.

          But where do all these myths and frowny faces leave us? Is it actually safe to book a massage session while undergoing chemo and radiation? What if I’m not a cancer patient anymore and have been free of the disease for several years? Can I still benefit? And what exactly are the benefits, anyway?

          In response to that first question, yes, it is perfectly safe to book a massage treatment, no matter what stage of cancer or what type you’re being treated for. Oftentimes, the only physical touch a patient receives while dealing with their disease involved poking, prodding, and pain. While on the massage table, a well-trained massage therapist will be able to bring relief, relaxation, and a warm, supportive environment to the client, something that can be severely lacking and very much needed.

          For those that don’t know, the biggest and perhaps most underestimated benefit of oncology massage is the mental support and caring touch the massage therapist can offer. This is often the most tumultuous, trying time in a person’s life, and they have been to countless appointments, spent many nights in a hospital bed, and are stressed to the absolute max. Allowing them a safe, quiet space to let go and simply be can make all the difference in the world. The anxiety, depression, nausea, fatigue, and an endless list of side effects can be relieved for a time. And even if there are no immediate physical benefits, the psychological benefits while dealing with the disease can help the client endure one more doctor questioning them with a more peaceful frame of mind. 

          If a client has been cancer-free for several years, the benefits can still be pretty powerful, too. Techniques can be adjusted according to the individual’s needs, and relief can be delivered while doing so in a safe way. If surgeries have been performed, organs have been removed, and pain is still experienced, etc., an oncology trained massage therapist will know how to manipulate the body in the most beneficial way compared to a client with no history of cancer. And if they don’t, it’s time to find a new therapist!

          If one is currently undergoing treatment in a hospital environment, it should still be encouraged to seek out the help of a trained massage therapist if it is of interest. While there are no laws in effect requiring a doctor’s clearance for a massage session as of now, a general rule of thumb is that the more documentation you are able to provide, the better. This will give your service provider the best, and most thorough understanding of your condition, what treatments you have undergone, and how your body is handling it all. In the end, it can only help you.

          When booking a session, it is (and should be) pretty standard for the massage therapist to deliver a lengthy intake form full of questions upon check-in. If this seems daunting, no sweat! Honest answers and a sincere, detailed discussion with the service provider will only serve to better the session and leave you with the most customized care possible. While a cancer patient’s day is filled with endless forms, questions, and uncomfortable scenarios, the goal of the oncology massage is first and foremost to provide self-care in body, mind, and spirit. Once they get to know you and your body, it’s only up from there! 

           So what can we gather from all of this information? First, do your research and only set up a session with someone who is well educated on the topic and who you feel comfortable with. Being that the main goal of oncology massage is comfort and care, being uncomfortable in any way severely inhibits the outcome of the session. This even goes for the most basic of massages. 

          Also, book a few sessions if at all possible. As with most things in life, persistence is key, so if your nerves are aflutter at first, never assume that it is useless to come back. Knowing what to expect the second time around, the client is often much more at ease, and the therapist much more knowledgeable about that particular person’s needs. And muscles that need attention and work will only open up more with numerous appointments. You may find that it is just what you’ve been looking for!

          At AgeLess SPA, we are currently working to incorporate this exciting modality of massage into our spa menu. Because of the unique nature of the treatment, the detailed intake, and delicate nature of the service, both the appointment length and price will vary slightly from our traditional integrated massages. But the goal of the session remains the same: to provide the client with the utmost attention, respect, and relaxation that they have come to expect from one of the best spas in the Southern Tier. By expanding our menu in this way, we are hopeful that it will open up endless possibilities for growth and serve the public in a way that has not previously been offered. Just one more way to show that we are truly here for you, our wonderful clients! 

          As always, stay connected to everything AgeLess through our website, Facebook page, and Instagram account! Here’s to being the best, healthiest, most beautiful version of you!