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Top Spa Offers Breast Massage
Karen Menehan

Women who have undergone breast surgery often experience pain, tightness, swelling, edema - and, in the case of mastectomy, feelings of grief and loss. To assist in patients' healing and recovery process, Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salons & Spas has added breast massage to its menu of services.

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The 50-minute treatment was designed for women who have undergone mastectomy and other breast surgeries, including augmentation, reduction and explantation.

Although a number of day spas offer breast massage, this is the first time a large spa chain has offered the service. Elizabeth Arden Spas is the largest branded day-spa company in the world, with more than 100 salons, including the Red Door and Mario Tricoci Spa brands.

The idea of offering breast massage came from Elaine Sauer, director of spas for the company.

"I presented it to the company after my collegue had a double mastectomy and [she received] weekly massage treatments to help her after the surgery," Sauer said. "Her physician was soon impressed with the results, and I therefore decided to look into cancer-treatment alternatives as well as other ways in which we could better support women who had recently undergone mastectomies."

So far about 40 therapists working at 28 of the company's spas in the Midwest and on the East Coast have been trained by Cheryl Chapman, R.N., a massage therapist and educator who specializes in massage for medical conditions, including cancer.

According to Chapman, the ways massage therapy aids breast-cancer patients are varied, and include relaxation, pain relief, emotional support, reduction of both swelling and tightness, softening of scar tissue, and alleviation of edema.

Massage can also help "reconnect" mastectomy patients to their own bodies, Chapman added. "A mastectomy, that's an amputation, they've had a part of their body removed - it's a very disconnecting thing.

 "They've gone through a lot of pain, so now it's time that they feel good and get back in touch with their bodies," she said.

The general massage protocol consists of Swedish massage strokes combined with energy work, such as reiki or polarity; sessions are individualized depending on each client's history. If she is a cancer survivor, then various factors come into play, Chapman said, such as the length of time since the surgery, and whether the client is undergoing chemotherapy.

Chapman believes that spas are the most natural environment for cancer patients to recover in; yet, she adds, fear or laws often inhibit both independent massage therapists and spas from offering breast massage.

"Most massage therapists don't touch women who have had breast cancer because: a) they feel they might do something wrong; and b) they don't know how to massage the breast," she said,  adding that with breast-massage training, massage therapists can help many clients heal from surgery.

Sauer echoed Chapman's thoughts on the scarcity of information about breast-massage, especially among clients. "People are really surprised to be educated about a way to help them through their recovery," she said.

She added that Elizabeth Arden's administration plans to train its West Coast and Texas massage therapists in the breast-massage protocol in 2004. The company's PR firm is promoting the breast massage through print and broadcast outlets.

"We all are affected by cancer, through a friend, a sister, a mother or ourselves - and, in some cases, males in our lives," Sauer said. "It's vital that as women we commit to making a difference for people - after all, the nature of our life on earth is to make a difference for our fellow man or woman."

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