Massage Therapists Offer Relief, Pain Reduction to Cancer Patients

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 6:44 PM | by mitch

By Zina Kumok, Media and Communications Coordinator

We have two certified oncology massage therapists at our Door to Wellness program. Every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., cancer patients, caregivers and providers can receive massage. Our therapists are specially trained to help relieve the symptoms of cancer treatment and help reduce their pain.


1.       Why did you become an oncology certified massage therapist?

Angela: In 2012 I had the opportunity to provide massage in the new Franciscan St. Francis Health Cancer Center. My original massage training in 2006 had not included anything specific when working with cancer patients. So, when I found out that the Society for Oncology Massage had been created, set standards, and recommended advanced coursework, I knew that I needed additional training to safely serve patients. Thankfully, I was able to attend a 100-hour advanced hospital/oncology massage program at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Dawn: I chose to become an oncology trained therapist because I have gone through cancer myself.  I wanted to help others get through the side effects caused by chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.  So many therapists are nervous about working on someone with cancer or are told that massage is a contradiction for those going through cancer.  If I can make one person feel comfortable, without pain or discomfort for a certain period, then I have done my job.

2.       What are some of the results you’ve seen in patients who receive massage services from Little Red Door?

Angela: At Little Red Door, I have seen immediate relief. Immediate relief from the pain of peripheral neuropathy. Immediate relief from anxiety and pain. Better mobility. Door to Wellness has provided a weekly home — a positive choice for the whole family. Caregivers feel the burden too and this program allows the gift of massage for everyone.

Dawn: While working with clients at LRD I have experienced great joy from watching lives change.  My specialty is lymphatic work and breast cancer.  I try and teach each one of the clients how to care for themselves at home through light lymph work they can do at home, stretching exercises to help with a range of motion and mobility after surgery. I tell my story of being a survivor of 18 years.  I feel my story brings hope to those struggling through this journey.

We have been doing Door to Wellness for a year now, and my favorite story is seeing a client who has been coming since day one.  She was weak, discouraged and in pain.  Today after coming every Tuesday (missing less than a handful of Tuesdays over the past year) she is one of the voices of the program.  She has less pain, a positive outlook, and uses what she has been taught daily. She brings friends and family with her. She still struggles, but the client I saw a year ago is now a light to everyone.

3.       What would you tell someone in cancer treatment who’s apprehensive about receiving massage services?

Angela: If you are apprehensive about receiving massage, ask questions. Is the person trained to safely massage patients or survivors? Indiana’s massage training lags behind other states and people with even less training were grandfathered in when the state started certifying massage therapists in 2007. Is the massage therapist asking you questions? Where are you at in the radiation or infusion cycles? Did you have surgery? How is your bone health?

Your massage therapist should customize and adjust position, pressure, and location to be as safe and comforting as possible. There are massage protocols to help with the numbness and tingling of hands and feet along with some patients’ lifetime risk for lymphedema.

Over the past 3 years I have met and given massage to over 500 cancer patients. From the pain of radiation scars to the long infusions days and every appointment in between, massage can be appropriate and safe to support you in this journey.

Dawn: When someone has cancer and is looking for a therapist I tell them to look for someone who is oncology trained. There are not many therapists trained in oncology, but finding someone who feels comfortable around cancer patients is a question they should ask when looking for a therapist.  When the client knows the therapist is not nervous about touching them and understands what you are going through, the client will relax.  Finding a therapist that they feel comfortable with is the most important.