Pathology is one of the required courses within the Massage Therapy Program at The Swedish Institute. Among the many conditions broken down for the soon to be therapist and then related back to massage is cancer. Within our notes and lectures, there is a working list of “irritants” that can create the level of genetic damage needed to allow cells to grow out of control and change their state. The usual suspects are present: smoking, alcoholism, environmental pollutants, genetic factors, viruses like HPV/AIDS and free radicals to name a few. The usefulness of massage to the cancer patient is in helping them to better deal with the side effects of chemo/radiation therapies, reduce the anxiety surrounding having this illness and boost the energetic force of the body. Reflexology and Acupressure massage like Shiatsu are the recommended types of bodywork to address the weakened systems of the body and specific organs without “spreading” the cancer around. These techniques also sufficiently relax the patient, thus stimulating their parasympathetic nervous response (rest and digest) which then gives them an appetite to ingest nutrients necessary to boost their immune system. The other useful arena for massage is in stress reduction and energetic support for the caretakers and family members of those who have the disease.
As cancer has now struck close to home, I have been doing a lot more research on alternative and natural therapies for the condition. In my search, I came across an article detailing the story of a German oncologist in the 1970’s by the name of Dr. Hamer who felt so strongly that there was a connection between psychological stress and the formation of Cancer, that he conducted over 40,000 case studies using MRI’s to prove his theory. What he saw were lesions created in the brain from the stress/trauma that he felt sent signals to corresponding body cells that caused the formation of tumors and the destruction of healthy tissue. He noted that if the source of the psychological stress could be alleviated or the individual be given strategies to better cope with psychologically traumatic events, then the stress on the body would be reduced significantly if not eradicated. When combined with conventional treatment for cancer, he felt that patients had a better chance of fighting the disease into permanent remission. Although there was a lot of controversy surrounding his theory, years later there is a lot to be said for the effects of stress on the immune system.
What is so amazing about bodywork is that it is an extremely effective method of stress reduction that is both easily accessible and affordable. As Ben Franklin’s idiom states, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Receiving regular massage promotes that state of balance our health thrives in known as homeostasis. With so much going on in the world around us so outside of our control, the best thing we can do for ourselves is dedicate the time to lay still and hopefully, let go.