Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Monday morning I found myself with a lot of time on my hands.  The combination of early spring snow, public transportation, and recent cancer treatment led all my morning clients to reschedule.  I gathered my things to go into the office anyway -- it seemed like the perfect time to get some paperwork done.  I just couldn't make myself get out the door, though.

Do you know those times when the couch feels absolutely magnetic?  When putting on a coat and striding purposefully through the door feels like climbing out of a well with no rope?  This was one of those times.

As someone who has been at this massage thing for longer than five years, I am acutely aware of the symptoms of burn out.  I counsel my students about it, and I schedule regular days off to keep myself away from it.  But I'm not perfect, and I started to worry -- is this burn out?  Is this it, the beginning of the end of my career in this field?  It felt so much heavier than other days when I've been tired, or have chosen to do something besides paperwork.

I got a little bit panicked, and tried even harder to will myself up back up from my chair and out the door -- which only made me get more stuck.  So I paused for a minute and decided to re-view the whole thing.  Because that was not the beginning of the end, it was merely a little breathing space cleared out for me by circumstances and seized by that subconscious part of me that always knows better.

Like my clients, I took the opportunity to reschedule.  I spent the morning productively, but in a different part of my life.  By the time I met with my afternoon client, all thoughts of burn out were gone.  Just another moment to remind me -- sometimes you just need to reschedule.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Masajear la Cabeza

Another client story:

Deirdre* is young.  Barely out of childhood young.  She has a rare cancer, which, in her body, showed up in an even rarer form. This massage appointment is a gift from people who can't stop telling me how rare and remarkable she is.  She greats me at the door with a knit cap on her bald head, tape over her port, and the biggest, most open smile I have ever seen.  She hands me her completed intake form -- she is so close to school that she turns it in and asks for feedback as if it were something I was going to grade.

Deirdre tells me the story of her cancer so far.  Diagnosis received while out of town for vacation ("I thought I felt sick because of all the partying I was doing.") Confirmation that her cancer was a very rare presentation ("I guess I'm rare and special.") Description of how debilitating her first round of chemo was ("I was completely out of it, and it was my birthday.  But if I wasn't in the hospital, I would have gotten wasted on my birthday anyway, so it's alright.") She tells me this story with her big, open, gorgeous smile.  She apologizes for how much she sweats as a side effect of her treatment.
I talk to her about oncology massage, and I ask her if she wants me to massage her scalp.

She puts her hand to her knit cap.  "My scalp?  You can massage my scalp?"  I nod.  I didn't think it possible -- but her smile gets bigger as she pulls off her knit cap.  "I never thought I could have a scalp massage."

She settles into a comfortable position for the massage.  Deirdre's mother comes into the room and folds blankets around her.  Deirdre smiles at her mother and tells her, in the language they share, that she is going to have her head massaged.

Deirdre keeps her eyes open at first, taking mental notes like the good student she so recently was.  As soon as I cradle her head in my hands, though, she closes her eyes and breathes.  Her hand rests gently over her tumor site.  Without her knit cap, bald head exposed,  Deidre's features emerge in stark, gentle purity.  Her head radiates heat into my hands as I hold it.  

I try to be neutral about my clients' prognoses.  They are with me to experience what it feels like to have a comfortable present.  That respite, that moment out of time, is my honor to provide.  Deirdre, though, with her face too young for lines and smile too open for tragedy -- she makes me hope.  Maybe, just this one time, a rare and difficult cancer could end in a rare and special cure.

*--name and identifying details have been changed

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sweetness in the Belly

I started this blog because so many lovely and amazing things happened with my clients that I found myself just wanting to tell stories whenever I got together with friends.  And also because some of those things were very emotional, and writing has always been a place where I could untangle emotional things.  I had a couple of new client experiences recently that are making me glad I started this blog.

This one came out in the form of my first writing love, poetry:

I kneel at her side, my two hands cradling her one,
catch sight of the book on her nightstand —
Sweetness in the Belly —
a bookmark tucked about 100 pages in.
Pages left unread that her eyes will never see.

I’ve seen skin like this before.  
Papery, tinged with yellow, fading bruises in a path from foot to head.
I’ve seen eyes like this before.
Sunken back into dark sockets, withdrawn and piercing in their largeness,
no eyelashes soften the steady gaze.

Animals know.  
The dog curled at her head, still as breath,
looks up and right at me.  
He dips his head, raises it, settles back to sleep —
This is good.  What I am doing is good.  

Her almost-adult daughter plays with attitudes.
Looks over my head —“Does the massage therapist know not to go in there yet?”  
Avoids eye contact, moves like she’s wearing a chain maille helmet.  
Later I hear her voice, muffled, to her father:
“I can’t do this.  I can’t put up with this any more.”

Her husband rides up in the elevator with me.  
“She’s not exactly, you know, compos mentis right now.”
He takes another asthmatic breath.
“We are nearing the end of the road, you see.”  

Yes.  I do.