Guest feature by Karin Douglas,
Owner of Energise Therapies and Training
Back in 2004, my Mum had a nagging shoulder pain that just wasn’t responding to treatment. An x-ray ‘to rule out anything more sinister’ sadly didn’t, and her diagnosis and prognosis were not good – cancer in the lung and chest wall. Chemo did not go well for her and was discontinued after one session.
I was visiting her in hospital as she recovered from the chemo, and she asked me for a neck and shoulder massage or a foot massage as she was sore and uncomfortable. I was gutted at having to say no! All my therapy training had drummed into me that a cancer diagnosis meant no massage. I wasn’t quite sure why, other than that we had been told that massage could encourage the spread of malignancy via the lymphatic system.
She was disappointed, and I was upset that I couldn’t do what she wanted. For relative and friends of people living with cancer, the feeling of helplessness can be a tough one, compounded in this case by having to say no to a simple request.
We eventually settled on a Reiki session – not underestimating in any way the relaxation and comfort there can be from Reiki, but it was massage she had asked for not a Reiki session.
A few days later, Mum and I were chatting on the ward, and in came her very old-school, formidable consultant. “Ohh, here comes trouble!” says my Mum, with that mischievous look on her face. “I’d like a word” says the consultant. I’m thinking, it’s the Reiki – I’m in deep trouble for giving mum a Reiki session!
“I hear you think you’re superwoman?” he says…“You think you can single-handedly promote the spread of a tumor by giving your mother a massage? Nonsense! Not possible. So your mother would like a massage. When you’ve done that, Mrs Brown over there would like her feet done. Your mother will make arrangements with you for others to have what they wish.”
“That’s you told!” said my Mum.
She had told him I had said she couldn’t have a massage, and he had said she absolutely could. Overruled!
I’m very grateful to have been overruled too. I was able to give my Mum (and her ward neighbours !) the treatments she wanted, and she said they helped relax her which had a knock-on effect for her pain levels.
For my part, it helped take away some of that powerlessness feeling that relatives and friends often experience. Of not really being able to do anything to help. At long last I felt useful. It also meant we had some real mother and daughter quality time, where it was just the two of us, with that lovely space that massage can create, that amazing, lovely bond. I was very lucky to have that.
Mum also said it was lovely to touch that wasn’t about hugs (she was a big hugger!), drips and other invasive medical treatments. It was something different just for her, precious time out from a treatment routine that had been established.
Later, while teaching therapies in colleges, I had to teach that cancer meant therapies were completely ruled out, in line with the outcomes and criteria of the awarding body. This wasn’t an easy one, as I was by that time well aware of the huge benefits of therapeutic touch for people living with cancer. I encouraged learners to take up specialist training once qualified so they were able to provide services to people with cancer.
Thankfully, things have moved on since then, with awarding bodies becoming more aware of the benefits of massage, reflexology etc for people with serious health conditions. Our school and therapy centre now offers the VTCT Level 4 Diploma in Providing Therapies for Clients with Cancer or other Life Limiting Conditions for qualified therapists, and the number of specialist training companies and schools has grown. The myths and misconceptions around this area are thankfully diminishing as more and more people become aware of the benefits.
On leaving my post in further education to set up my company, I was keen to make treatments as accessible as possible for people with long term health conditions and for unpaid carers. We offer half price treatments and some freebies whenever we can. We try our best to make access to massage sustainable, by offering workshops in massage and other therapies for safe home use.
I know how much Mum and I benefited and I would love for as many people as possible to have the same opportunity!
about the author
Karin left her post as course leader for holistic therapies at a further education college to set up Energise – a therapies and training centre in Cambuslang, Glasgow. They offer VTCT and SQA-regulated courses as well as shorter CPD courses for existing therapists. She is also Scottish tutor for Face The World and volunteers for Therapies4Forces.
She is committed to making both therapies and training as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, and has a particular interest in ensuring therapies for unpaid carers and people living with serious health issues are affordable and easy to access.
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