By Peggy Zinsser
LMT, Massage Therapist/Reiki Master, Spa Harmony
When you hear the term cancer treatment, you probably think of chemotherapy and radiation. But how about massage therapy and Reiki?
As part of a holistic approach in conjunction with medical treatment, both of these complementary therapies offer numerous benefits from pain management and stress reduction to positive physical, spiritual and emotional reinforcement.
Creating a safe environment
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is life changing. One day everything seems fine—the next day life feels very, very different. Most people, once they’ve digested the news, determine to do whatever it takes to get through it and be a survivor.
Frequently, one of the first things they do is what I call “guarding”—building up their physical, emotional and spiritual defenses to protect themselves from the discomfort, pain and fear their treatment often involves. As a result, they may have difficulty letting themselves relax or respond to positive touch.
Cancer massage therapy does an excellent job penetrating these defenses because it involves an extremely light touch, in a safe environment, with someone who’s not focused on taking care of the physical part of the disease. In other words, patients can trust that nothing about massage therapy will hurt. It helps them realize that not all cancer treatment involves a needle, interferes with their ability to sleep, or causes nausea and other side effects.
Another non-invasive therapeutic technique, Reiki, works to restore balance in the energy field surrounding your body without using physical touch. This Japanese healing art helps clear the energy pathways in and around the body where negative thoughts and feelings, or cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, have disturbed the smooth flow of energy. Although spiritual in nature, Reiki is not a religion and requires no specific beliefs to benefit from it.
During a Reiki session, the practitioner moves his or her hands above your body to adjust the energy fields, promoting a feeling of peace and calmness and helping you release anxiety and fear. In addition, Reiki encourages you to go back to your root beliefs and allow yourself to let go of any that don’t serve your current situation. For example, some patients may recall negative comments about cancer diagnoses they may have heard as children—even when there’s excellent potential for a positive outcome in their own case.
Before beginning Reiki or cancer massage sessions, it’s important to talk with your oncologist. It’s also important to be patient. While many people find complementary therapies help them sleep better, avoid depression or feel more positive, the benefits may take a few weeks to appear.
The frequency of treatment depends on individual preference. It’s best to tailor it to your schedule and energy level to prevent it from becoming just another obligation on a “to-do” list. After all, the goal is to support your recovery efforts by helping you to relax and feel stronger—physically, emotionally and spiritually.
A licensed massage therapist, Reiki Master and childbirth educator, Peggy Zinsser is certified in cancer massage therapy and pregnancy massage, as well as a variety of other modalities. She is a massage therapist at Spa Harmony located in the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center of The Washington Hospital. For more information, visit www.spaharmony.org.