A Greet the Day massage therapist provides massage to an oncology patient.

Denise Bell was approaching 10 years as an ovarian cancer survivor and planned to treat herself to an exotic vacation—then, her routine mammogram revealed inflamed lymph nodes. When her doctor diagnosed breast cancer, she knew exactly what to do. She had been a volunteer for five years at Greet the Day, an integrative oncology care group, and had witnessed first-hand the benefits of the restorative program. Now it was her turn to be on the receiving end.

Founded in 2003 by Christine Hrountas, M.D., and massage therapist Johnnette du Rand Kelly, Greet the Day began as a day spa program in Orange, California, and has grown to include infusion center oncology massage, inpatient oncology massage and oncology massage education.

Executive Director Kim Mason said that trained massage therapists perform hand-and-foot massage during treatment at 11 infusion centers in Southern California. “We branched into the inpatient setting two years ago when we received a grant,” she said. “We’ve also expanded our education program. Twenty-five percent of the massage therapists we train go on to become volunteers with Greet the Day.” The program has tripled in the last three years and now has more than 30 active therapists.

Bell was already a massage therapist when she began volunteering at Greet the Day’s infusion center in 2006. The program impressed her so much, she decided to become trained in oncology massage. Today, after personally benefiting from the healing power of Greet the Day, she serves as program coordinator of the nonprofit’s Spa Day Retreat.

The four-hour Spa Day Retreat program offers restorative care for both body and mind, reducing anxiety, pain symptoms, fatigue and isolation. More importantly, the program attempts to dispel the notion that these clients are untouchable. “We make them feel that they matter,” Bell said. The Spa Day Retreat was initiated by Spa Gregorie’s, in Newport Beach, in 2003. Today, eight area cancer treatment center refer patients to the program.

Just eight clients are allowed per spa session, in order to foster an intimate, calming environment. During the half-day program, clients enjoy a variety of activities, including yoga, guided imagery, musical dance, facials, massage, manicures and pedicures.

“They get a free light lunch after the treatments and have a chance to talk, share and become friends,” Bell said. “This helps them forget about radiation and medical insurance bills, and gets them to relax.”

Cancer has touched almost everyone’s life in some way, Mason said, and added, “Our goal is to ensure that every patient have the opportunity to get a massage.”

About the Author

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.

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