Most massage training teaches budding therapists that they can’t massage someone who’s had cancer until they’ve had the five year all clear. I started my massage training in Edinburgh, two months after my dad died of lung cancer, and at the time I thought (and worried) about what I’d say if someone with cancer came to me for a massage – as at that time I’d have had to say it wasn’t possible due to my lack of training (and therefore insurance). It turned out that I never had to have that conversation but since my oncology massage training with Iris Cancer Partnership in Edinburgh I’ve met those who have been on the receiving end of that conversation due to their cancer diagnosis. And some of these frustrating stories were at five-star hotels – they went to the hotel as a treat but left there feeling far from being treated.
In Scotland, every day 90 people are told that they have cancer (source: Macmillan.org.uk) so that’s a lot of people potentially feeling disappointed. However when I did my training with Iris I understood why training is important. The effects of cancer are physical and emotional and as a massage therapist it’s important that you massage safely and the client receives the treatment best suited to them. For example, if certain lymph nodes have been tested/removed they are at risk of lymphoedema so the massage treatment needs to be adapted accordingly. Or they might be receiving chemotherapy and experiencing side effects such as fatigue, which you don’t want to exacerbate.
So what’s the answer? Already massage training covers a lot (anatomy, physiology, pathology and more) but why not make space to include education about massaging someone with a cancer diagnosis, in the same way that, for example, pregnancy massage is included in our first training? You can go on to do courses which specialise in pregnancy massage, but we’re taught in our initial training how to safely massage someone who is pregnant. I’d like oncology massage training to be treated the same way so that someone isn’t turned away from getting a massage at the very time they need it.