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Compassionate touch for cancer patients
Compassionate touch for cancer patients

A Nevada massage therapist brings touch to patients, family and staff at a hospital cancer unit, thanks to the hospital’s medical foundation.

David Lowe began working in the oncology unit of Washoe Medical Center in Reno three years ago as work experience during his massage training at the Ralston School of Massage. After four months, the manager of cancer services for the center, JoAnne Gould, offered Lowe a job.

"We have people that have been sick for a long time, some in very difficult emotional circumstances, such as AIDS patients who have lost their support system, and massage is another expression of caring and concern to bring these people comfort at the end of their life," said Gould. "The patients know [Lowe’s] schedule and really look forward to him working with them."

The Washoe Medical Foundation, which funds Lowe’s position at the hospital with donations from the local community, provides massage, aromatherapy, and pet and music therapy to improve patients’ quality of life.

Lowe, who also has a private practice, visits the oncology unit three days a week. He offers patients between 15 minutes and an hour of gentle Swedish massage or lymphatic drainage. Patients are referred by nurses and physicians, and may suffer from insomnia, edema, pain, muscle stiffness and emotional distress.

"Many people on the unit have never received a massage," Lowe said. "Invariably after a massage they’ll say, ‘Why didn’t I do that years ago?’"

Usually wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt that mirrors his upbeat attitude, Lowe is a welcome sight for patients’ families on the ward as well. He offers neck-and-shoulder massages to family members, as well as full-body massage in a separate room if needed.

"They have a loved one who is dying, and they tend to neglect themselves. I watch out for them and make sure they take breaks and do more self-care," he said.

Massage also helps bring families closer together at the end of life. "Having a massage therapist on the unit whose sole purpose is to touch people gives the family permission to touch, to hold and to comfort. It adds a tremendous element of caring, that can be lost in the medical setting," said Lowe.

He recalled one young patient who was dying of AIDS. "His friends and family came to visit, but I could not help but notice they seldom touched him," said Lowe. "And whenever I went in to offer him a massage, he always politely refused. Finally one day, when he was alone, I went and sat by the bed. I gently laid a hand on his bare shoulder and one on his forearm. ‘Would you like a massage today?’ I asked quietly. ‘I know you have AIDS. That isn’t a problem.’"

Lowe said the man began to weep. "He had resigned himself to the fact that no one would ever want to touch him. He accepted my offer. And the wonderful thing was, as his family and friends saw he was getting massaged … they too began to touch him. They came to realize he needed that touch, as much as he needed the other basic necessities of life."
Patricia Kirby

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