The Institute for Therapeutic Massage, Inc’s COMTA accredited Oncology Massage Certification Program brings the benefit of massage therapy to cancer patients at UMDNJ’s University Hospital, located in Newark, NJ.  As part of the program’s 750 hours, students spend over 100 hours providing massage to cancer patients at the hospital in both in-patient and out-patient environments.  The recipients of therapeutic massage are comprised mainly of those individuals who normally couldn’t afford massage therapy, were it not offered free of charge.  The patients come from all walks of life and socio-economic situations, with many there as “charity care” patients.
The students spend a good portion of their time outside of the hospital learning about techniques, indications, contraindications and the Science of Oncology and Palliative Care, so when they have a chance to bring this knowledge into the practical arena, both therapist and patient reap the benefits.  Some of the comments made by the students about their time spent in the hospital include:
“I feel like I’m part of the intricate cycle of life; temporarily entering someone else’s journey through a difficult time and providing some relief and hopefully, some understanding.” (Margo Garrison, MT, oncology massage student)
“I find joy and satisfaction knowing that I may have eased the intensity of their symptoms, while giving them some much needed rest.” (Eileen Sweeney, oncology massage student)
“It can be a heart breaking as well as a rewarding experience, taking a patient from their present emotional state and making them feel unique and special”  (Aida Suarez, NCTMB, CMT-NJ, oncology massage student)
“My hospital experience has exposed me to the pain of others who respond with enormous gratitude for compassionate touch, like the patient in the end of life stage of cancer, who opened her eyes briefly to thank me for gently rubbing her chest”  (Alicia Malay, oncology massage student)
The patients who receive massage therapy include those who are receiving chemotherapy in the out-patient clinic as well as those who are hospitalized for treatment or due to complications from the treatment or the cancer itself.  Some of the more common complaints that the therapists hear about include stress, pain, anxiety, muscle stiffness, nausea, vomiting and depression.  During the massage, many patients go right to sleep, while those that are awake often comment on their massage experience.
“There are no words to describe how good I feel right now, thank you so much”
“I am much more comfortable than I was before the massage.  You were God sent”
“I don’t feel the pinching pain I had in my stomach and I don’t feel dizzy anymore”
“I didn’t feel like eating before the massage, but now I’m hungry”
“You are a blessing, I wish you were here everyday”
Often, the patients just want someone to spend time with them.  They need to talk about their families, past experiences and current condition and experience.  The therapists find that aside from the techniques learned, they have also learned how to listen in an open, caring and non-judgmental way.  The nurses and other healthcare practitioners also look forward to the therapists “showing up”.  
“We know that our patients are in good hands and they just love it” said one of the Registered Nurses at UMDNJ.  Another stated, “I wish you were here all the time, my patients just brighten up when hear the word massage.”  
When the students have time, they will often work on the nurses.  One student remarked, “The nurses need massage almost as much as the patients do, they’re constantly running around and under a lot of stress, it’s great when they can take 5 or 10 minutes for themselves.”  “Our patients come first, but when the therapists have a few minutes for us, it’s just heaven,” noted one nurse.
The article about the new membership-based oncology massage group, in the March 2008 issue of Massage magazine noted the increasing number of massage therapists in our nation’s hospitals.  This is just one example where a prominent massage therapy school combines extensive training in oncology massage and puts it to practical use, bringing massage therapy to the underserved population in an inner city hospital.  In a program such as this, everyone benefits; the student therapist, nurses, patients and their families.  For more information about this program, contact ITM via their website at or call (973) 839-6131.