We opted for a deep (tissue) convo with FirstHealth’s oncology massage therapist, Jo Ann Richardson, to learn about oncology massage therapy and a couple happenings to have on your radar for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Deep breath in. And out. Reader, we’ll bring you back now.
Q: How long have you been a massage therapist?
A: I have been a massage therapist for 11 years. After working for a while, I decided to pursue extensive training in oncology massage therapy. We all learn a little bit when we go to school about different diseases, but continuing education classes for oncology are specific for treating those going through the process at the time, recovering and living life afterwards.
Q: What inspired you to do the extensive training in oncology massage therapy?
A: I was always drawn to the medical side of massage. I just feel like you need to know as much as you can about certain conditions so you’re always making a positive outcome. Then one day I had a patient come in who was compromised, and I knew I needed to know more. I decided to take more classes.
Q: What makes an oncology massage different?
A: It’s not about the disease itself, it’s about making exceptions or adaptations for massage based on whatever treatment clients are going through or what side effects they’re experiencing. It is extra consideration– which is true for everyone– but more specifically for cancer patients.
Q: What are the different treatments you are mindful of?
A: For someone going through chemo, a massage may help alleviate certain side affects or assist in relaxation and sleep. Though if it is a bad day during chemo, it may not be the best day for a massage. For someone going through radiation, we know this can exhaust them and physically burn parts of their skin. We need to be careful. We don’t ever want to overstimulate someone in the middle of treatment because their body is already working so hard. An oncology massage is typically slower and lighter. It is about nurturing the client and helping them relax. Sometimes that can be disappointing for those who prefer deep work, but it is for their health. And if someone has had lymph nodes removed or radiated we need to be more careful in that quadrant.
Q: What’s that about lymph nodes?
A: If someone has had lymph nodes removed or radiated, then we know that the lymph system is somewhat altered than what it was. Lymphedema can result in damage to the lymph nodes because they are no longer working to their capacity, and deep pressure could trigger something in the lymph system. So if I know my client has experienced this treatment, I am going to use much more care in the quadrant that has been affected. And I hope doctors and nurses explain to their patients to be careful, too.
Q: Do you have advice for survivors and thrivers seeking oncology massage therapy?
A: Two things: If you tell a massage therapist what you’ve been through, and they don’t ask questions, seek another massage therapist. Make sure you share your health history. And, during the hardest times, massage can be beneficial for the stress, the anxiousness, the sleeplessness and the pain. But listen to your body. If it is not a good day for you, it may not be a good day for massage. And if you’ve learned your white blood cell count is low, please stay home.
Q: Is there anything happening this October for Breast Cancer Awareness month?
A: Yes! We are offering the Think Pink Massage Package all month and donating $2 to the First Health Cancer CARE Fund for every package sold. There will also be three Pink Out Group Exercise Classes at First Health Fitness where you can bring money to donate to the fund and wear pink to be eligible for prize drawings:
- Sat., Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. BODYFLOW
- Wed., Oct. 20 at 8:30 a.m. BODYPUMP
- Wed., Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. Dance Fitness