My Journey to Becoming a Wingman through Oncology Massage Therapy
My personal journey toward becoming a cancer patient wingman began
one sunny afternoon while weeding the fragrant cottage garden just
outside my back door. A close friend dropped by unexpectedly. We had shared
preschool carpooling duties, emergency mom contact responsibilities, and
were at the time experiencing high school parenting joys and frustrations. I
immediately detected distress in her face and invited her in for a cup of tea.
The delicate porcelain cup rattled as she received it and my friend burst into
tears. She had just been told she had an aggressive type of breast cancer. My
home was only blocks from the hospital. She had gone by herself to the
appointment, was now in shock, unable to function, and needed to process.
I was at a loss as how to assist in that deeply personal moment. I stood on the
outside as an observer as she began treatments, battled unbearable nausea,
fought edema, and began wearing head scarves. I felt woefully helpless.
Shortly after that experience, I enrolled in a program at a well-known
international college of aromatherapy in England. Upon completion of
intensive study, the subject of my aromatherapy clinical dissertation was The
Use of Aromatherapy in UK Hospitals. I returned to the US, armed with a
Bodywork Certificate and Clinical Diploma in Aromatherapy. After acquiring
National Massage Certification here in the United States, I discovered our
local Indiana hospital was constructing a state of the art outpatient cancer
center. The center director, the director of oncology nursing, and the cancer
board were enthusiastic to approve a twelve-week oncology massage trial
program I had developed from protocols being used in England. At the end
of the trial period, results were presented to the Cancer Board, which
supported continuation of the program with a grant obtained to fund free
massages for patients and caregivers.
The overall focus of our oncology massage program was quality of life.
Beyond the positive physical benefits, our sessions gave some measure of
support for reversing negative body image issues–transitioning patient’s
mindset from the feeling of the body being the enemy to the concept that the
body was still attractive, and could still provide comfort and feel pleasure. Over
the life of the program, our patient response indicated an average of at least
50 percent experiencing a temporary reduction of physical symptoms and 90
percent showing improvement in perception of quality of life by reducing
anxiety and tension compared to pre-session measurements.
Early in the program, I began to realize…
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