Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Peace that Surpasses Understanding

Everyone should have a person in their life whose default approach to every situation is kindness.  I had that person until early last week, and tomorrow I say my final goodbye to her.  She was 95, and as someone pointed out to me, we have been saying  goodbye to her for at least eight years.  A routine surgery followed by a fall and T.I.A. started a slow decline -- so slow we barely noticed as we adjusted to the new versions of her.

But I am not here to remember those last eight years.  I am thinking of the previous 87.  Or, more specifically, of the smaller portion of those years where I knew her.

My most enduring memory of her is of leave taking.  She would stand in her doorway -- or on the porch if it was warm enough -- and wave to us as we drove away.  Every time we drove away.  It didn't matter if the time between our visits was less than a day -- she watched over our leaving every time.  When I was younger, I would get so sad as I watched her figure, framed in the doorway, grow smaller in the distance.  As long as I could see her, I felt heavier and heavier until I thought we had to -- HAD TO -- turn around and go back to her.  I just assumed she was lonely when we left, even when her husband was still alive or when she had more people still visiting after us.

I see it differently now.  We have been going through old photographs to put together one of those barely-adequate displays of someone's life.  I realized that in every photograph where one of her children is in the picture, she is looking at the child, not the photographer.  And she looks serene as the Buddha in each one.  This was her gift to us, and although it sounds like not much, it was more than most people can offer.  Her gift was watching, with love and attention.  That is why she always waved us out when we visited.  Her attention belonged to us, for as long as we were with her, even if ours was elsewhere.  And her attention was always kind.

In my work, I strive daily to reproduce this kind of attention for every client.  I try to model and teach it to my students.  It is a struggle sometimes, but when I know I have it working, I feel a peace that can't be explained.  How wonderful to think that most of her life was built on that kind of peace.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Deep Issue

We knew this day was coming.  My colleague and I have spent the past year or so pointedly avoiding mentioning the words "deep tissue massage" in the hearing of the professionals who run the clinic.  We knew they had the (to us) sorely mistaken idea that deep tissue massage was safe for people actively undergoing  chemotherapy.  We figured we could do our thing, practice within the bounds of what we felt was safe, and avoid the issue.

Recently, though, we have been forced to speak out.  A patient who was a regular recipient of deep tissue massage before diagnosis decided she does not want the lighter touch we are offering.  And the management wants to know why.  My colleague and I have spent the better part of the last week reading, highlighting and summarizing all the research we could find on oncology massage, deep tissue massage, and any intersections of the two.  We have piles of research that all definitively says the same thing, and that thing is . . . .


While every acknowledged oncology massage expert I have come across asserts that deep tissue massage is not recommended or safe during treatment, there is no research which has tested this assertion.  As my colleague pointed out, this is most likely because there isn't a massage therapist anywhere who would agree to do the "deep tissue" arm of any proposed study.  We did find numerous articles emphasizing the importance of having a trained therapist work with oncology patients.  We also know that any legitimate training includes extensive discussion of pressure restrictions.  We have also found some studies where light massage proved beneficial for oncology patients -- but in these the question was not about light vs. deep pressure.  The question was : does massage in general offer a benefit? (Answer: Yes.)

We have taken this peripheral, tangential, observational information and gathered it into organized packets of relevant information.  The management is busy with patients and, well, management.  We don't know when our full-on discussion of this topic will happen.  It may never happen, and even if it does, they may not want to listen.   We have done our research, and we feel confident in our opinion. For now, we are staying crouched in or foxhole with our not-ideal ammunition, hoping for a truce.