Along with a cancer diagnosis comes undesirable side effects like nausea, pain, anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, indicate these effects can be reduced by light massage therapy.
A setting of calm and rest is enough to reduce anxiety for some patients. For others, the physical act of massage releases bottled-up emotions.
Massage therapist Nina Jaroslawsky, LMT, see those emotions nearly every day.
As the healing arts coordinator at The Caring Place, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jaroslawsky schedules weekly therapeutic activities, including massage for cancer patients. She also works as the lead therapist, providing massage to about 30 clients a month.
Some clients are so angry, she said, she feels it the moment they step into the room.
Often, though, much of the anger dissipates by the end of a session.
“It calms them and the anxiety levels,” she said. “They are so thankful someone cares. It’s human contact with someone who isn’t in a white coat and gloves. They feel love. Sometimes in the middle they just start crying.”
The Caring Place welcomes adult cancer patients free of charge to indulge in relaxing under the care of licensed massage therapists. As a nonprofit run under the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation (NVCCF), volunteers and staff support cancer patients, family, and caregivers.
The NVCCF offers a number of programs, also free, to cancer patients, including The Caring Place, a spa-like atmosphere with hands-on healing modalities. In 2009, the center opened its doors with offerings such as reiki, massage, art classes, gentle yoga, and craniosacral therapy.
Last year, BIOTONE sponsored a grant via the Massage Therapy Foundation to continue the program’s massage offerings. Reflexology, reiki and massage are among the most-requested services. Clients can choose to receive a massage up to once a week.
“We help people come together and create that supportive environment. People really connect with one another when they come here,” said Stephanie Parker, vice president and director of marketing for NVCCF. “What we’ve created here is not just a building, but a place of peace for people with a diagnosis.”
One of the most difficult parts of someone learning they have cancer is often not having a support group, said Parker. Aside from showing compassion to clients, The Caring Place staff and volunteers provide respite emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Not long ago, Parker remembers one lady who came in with gray-looking skin and low energy. After her massage and reflexology treatments, Parker recalled her “literally bouncing out [of treatment].”
The impact of gentle, compassionate touch makes a difference even after one session, Parker said.
“It’s really just a place of peace, calm and relaxation,” explained Parker of The Caring Place. “The hands-on therapies are a comfort thing. Who doesn’t need a hug after that [diagnosis]? That human contact makes them feel comfortable.”
Touching the Family Unit
Since 2009, Parker estimates at least 5,000 patients, caregivers, family, and friends have benefitted from the services provided. Patients are always the priority, but when there are open spots and volunteers on hand, caregivers and family members may receive services.
Sometimes massage therapy volunteers can lay hands on a family unit. The Caring Place double-treatment room has space for two clients and two therapists.
For example, therapists can work on a parent and a child cancer patient together since The Caring Place and NVCCF are in the same building.
While donors and other grants keep the doors open, The Caring Place would have a hard time operating if it weren’t for the volunteers. For massage therapy alone, the nonprofit has around 14 regular volunteers. The programs—especially massage—keeps Jaroslawsky busy, and she loves every moment of it.
Jaroslawsky, a former massage educator, meant to retire. Instead, she found a new career with The Caring Place.
During her teaching years, she brought her massage students in for a reflexology day to earn credit while doing a good community deed. The staff loved it, the clients enjoyed it, and her students always wanted to do more of it.
When the role opened up for the healing arts coordinator position, she couldn’t say no.
“I walked through the doors of The Caring Place about nine years ago and fell in love with the idea of what they did,” she said.
Watching the clients unwind under a gentle touch gave her a newfound joy and responsibility. Regularly, recipients thank her for what she’s done at the end of the session. For her, it’s a way to give back with the gift she’s been given.
“They need to think about something other than the fact that they have cancer,” she said.
A Way to Relax
Most patients don’t talk about the cancer when they come. Some just sit in the lobby in silence. Others want to stay busy with crafting, socializing or pampering.
And some always loved massage and are grateful for free ones during a difficult time.
Prior to her diagnosis of stage four ovarian cancer, Beverly Balke enjoyed massages. Now, she understands it’s as important as ever to make time for self-care between treatments.
“While you’re doing cancer treatment, you’re not getting pampered too much,” admitted Balke.
“It’s a way to get away from the medical procedures and all that. It’s a way to relax and be pampered.”
Upon diagnosis, Balke didn’t know of anyone else who had cancer, so finding a place to connect and unwind has been important during her journey as a patient.
“Besides what massage is supposed to do, it gives me a sense of being pampered, too,” she said. “It’s a good thing to get once in awhile when you’re battling cancer. Besides the benefits, it gives me a good sense of being pampered during this period.”
Even with the free services and welcoming smiles, it can be difficult for people to step into The Caring Place.
Parker recalled a woman who admitted to driving and sitting in parking lot three times before she could walk in. For many cancer patients, entering The Caring Place is the first time they’ve verbalized a cancer diagnosis, Parker said.
For others, entering into a supportive cancer circle is overwhelming.
One patient on tour cried when he exited the massage treatment room, Parker said. He hadn’t been touched by a therapist, but he felt the warmth of healing just by standing in the room, she said.
Despite all the good work, sometimes the days can be emotional, the staff admitted.
Even on the hard days, therapists are taught to be in the moment with the client under their hands. As the massage volunteer leader, Jaroslawsky tells her volunteers to “give the energy back” to the client.
“Their energy is not mine to keep,” she reminds herself and volunteers. “There’s a certain give or take. You gotta give it back, though.”
For all the emotionally-charged days, though, Jaroslawsky wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s been amazing. I went back to school at 46 for massage. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I love it.”
Her favorite part of this work?
“Knowing you made a difference in one piece of their journey,” she said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
About the Author
Seraine Page is an award-winning journalist based out of Florida. She enjoys writing about health, wellness and travel. Her work has been featured online for sites like SANDBOXX, Redbubble, Teespring, DAYSPA Magazine and others. Page is a regular contributor to MASSAGE Magazine, and she recently wrote “Massage Therapy as an Alternative to Opioids?” for massagemag.com.