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When Facing Cancer, Compassionate, Caring Touch Matters

I first heard the word cancer when I was nine.

No, it was not pertaining to a grandparent or an elderly family friend. It pertained to my cousin, who was 11. She aspired to become a doctor.

She knew this was her calling since she was five. She had sweet sugarplum fairy dreams of curing a disease or at the very least paving the means to the way.

She would have been an amazing doctor. How ironic then that she would lose her life to cancer the following year.

Cancer awareness, screening, and treatment catapulted some amazing advancements since then. A plethora of wonder drugs, therapies, and awareness campaigns are available now.

Most importantly, cancer is no longer a household taboo—a word once whispered for fear that the mere mention of it let alone touching it would cause instant contraction of the disease.

That stigma has disappeared.

Search for a cure is our collective passion. We run marathons, donate money, sport multicolored ribbons and wristbands—each color a visual emblem signifying a particular strand of the disease.  Heck, even big burly pro football players wear pink in October.

So as the saying goes, we’ve come a long way baby….which we have.

Unfortunately, we still have a way to go. Cancer’s cruelty and the indiscriminate way it strikes persists. It touches us all. None are immune. If you haven’t personally experienced it, chances are someone you love or know has.

When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer five years ago, I was immersed with my massage therapist training.

After decades in publishing I wanted something more holistic to complement my writing. I wanted to give back; I wanted to heal. But despite my best intentions, I could not heal my mother. Not even her specialists could heal her.

What I could do was honor her life. So I attained additional training in oncology massage and I volunteered at a local hospital providing comfort chemo touch, a service my mother received during her treatments. While I embarked upon this journey with the intent to help others heal, I realized I was in reality continuing my education. Funny how life works like that.

My teachers are the people I meet in the infusion center. Remarkable individuals. Courageous. Dignified. Inspirational. They touch my life in ways words cannot convey. And as with my mother, all have mentioned how refreshing it is to receive a human touch that blesses instead of pokes, soothes instead of prods, gives instead of takes. Caregivers often later ask me if they can provide hand or foot massages at home. The answer is yes.

While oncology massage requires specific advanced educational training and adherence to a strict protocol, any caregiver can safely provide a hand or foot massage with these basic techniques:

  1. Avoid scented lotions as chemo affects the olfactory system.
  2. Use a light touch—no deep pressure.
  3. Keep your hands soft; no tension.
  4. Provide gentle holds and squeezes.
  5. Pacing is important—slow is best
  6. Access acupressure points that deter nausea and fatigue. Hand-and-foot charts are available at many locations.
  7. Be present with the person. Focus on providing a loving touch.

So next time you run that marathon, donate shorn locks to charity, or don those color-coded ribbons and wristbands, stop; take a step back, then go that extra mile—reach out to someone who has cancer. Provide them with the simplest yet most valuable of gifts—conversation and a compassionate human touch. It could be as simple as holding the hand of a stranger.

Read more posts by Alison Blasko here. Alison blogs for JenningsWire.