In February, I travelled to Portland to learn more about massage in the Infusion Center at Oregon Health Sciences University, one of the first places to provide massage for people living with Cancer.  Each night we were asked to write a reflection from our work that day. In the next few weeks, I’ll include excerpts from my reflections.

Sitting on the light rail, traveling back to my sister’s house after a day at the hospital, I was reading an article for that night’s homework, and heard, “Oh, perfect! I need to pull out my notebook, too!”  Erin, an engineering student at Portland State University, settled down across from me on the train. We chatted, and she told me her passion in engineering is in looking at groundwater contamination, and her goal is to end fracking.  I mentioned to her my reading, and working in oncology massage, and she immediately wanted to know more—how can she help her friends going through treatment, and survivors? She didn’t even know “oncology massage” was a thing. I gave her the website for the Society for Oncology Massage ( which she promised to share with her closest friend going through treatment.

That conversation was a marked contrast to my experience earlier that day, seeing a patient who was severely immune-compromised and receiving chemotherapy, and yet, she wanted a deep-tissue massage.  The massage I gave her was slow and gentle, created for comfort and to promote healing. But in her view, so many of the things she enjoyed, including a deep massage, had been taken away from her with her diagnosis and treatment, the idea of giving that up, too, was too much. This, even though her “regular” massage could make her feel worse.  While I try to be present and supportive, and educate my patient for the benefits of a kinder, gentler massage, it was not going well. Such a contrast with Erin’s enthusiasm! Then again, my new acquaintance on the train was not actually going through the experience of cancer, and some of the unpleasant side effects of treatment, so she could easily afford a cheerier approach and attitude.    

Three or four of the patients I met in Portland were not yet ready to depart from their deep tissue massages and find an oncology massage therapist.  Yet those who make the change are often gratified to see how effective a gentler massage can be.

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