Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People With Cancer
Gayle MacDonald


Many professional bodyworkers have been taught that cancer is a contraindication, but Gayle MacDonald affirms "Skilled touch is beneficial at nearly every stage of the cancer experience, during hospitalization, the pre- and post-op period, in the out-patient clinic, during chemotherapy or radiation, recovery at home, remission or cure, and in the end stages of life. Not only are physical needs addressed, but emotional, social and spiritual ones as well." To support her thesis, Ms. MacDonald quotes a body of research which is impressive though still in its early stages. To this, she adds her own and colleagues' experience in hospitals where massage has the support of the oncologists and nursing staff and is practiced alongside standard medical procedures.

The lay reader will be impressed by the range of bodywork modalities which are available for the cancer patient. MacDonald does not attempt to 'teach' these techniques, which are the sphere of the trained professional, but summarizes their methods, benefits and appropriateness for different stages of the disease. 'Massage' ranges from non-touch 'energy' therapies, indicated for the patient whose condition renders even light touch painful or potentially dangerous, to deep touch modalities which can be used in the final stages of recovery.

Families and friends of patients need to know the benefits of touch. Most patients find relaxation and healing in a simple foot massage or a hand stroking their arm or head. For such, a professional is not needed. Touch is the simplest and most enduring of human interactions, from our mother's hands around us after we are born to the parting kiss when we are dying. In between, we have caressed our lovers, clasped our sons and shaken our friends by the hand. The cancer patient is often afraid and vulnerable, perhaps disfigured by surgery, and needs reassurance that they are still worth-while and loveable. Touch provides this assurance. MacDonald feels passionately that failure to touch cancer patients appropriately amounts to sense deprivation, which may lengthen hospital stays, inhibit the benefits of standard medical procedures and diminish life expectancy.

Many cancer patients do not recover. MacDonald takes us into the homes of the dying, describes the stages of the dying process and tells us how she works with the family, caregivers and hospice staff. She relates moving stories which speak of the comfort that gentle touch brings to the departing soul, even healing relationships embittered by past conflict. Her words remind us just how spiritual and uplifting the dying process can be for all involved. We are companions on the same journey.

For all the passion with which this book is written, it is a profoundly serious and practical work, packed full of useful information and clearly written. There are detailed chapters on how cancer metastasizes, and on hospital procedures, treatments and the recovery process. Both the professional and lay person will be interested in the description of the stages of the disease and the appropriate modalities for addressing them. The professional will find the instructions on how to adapt to hospital regimens particularly helpful. The work is fully referenced and there is a comprehensive index. The six appendices provide a valuable supplement. They include a glossary of medical terms and common abbreviations, a description of many different types of cancer and of numerous bodywork modalities and their potential benefits, and a list of resource organizations. Professionals will be interested in the sample forms to help evaluate their work.

For the professional, this book provides an invaluable introduction and guide to work with cancer patients. For the patients themselves, it offers a way to make painful treatments more endurable and find comfort, reassurance and distraction in healing touch. For family and friends, it points a way to ease their sense of frustration and helplessness as they observe their loved one's pain but feel unable to do anything positive. Now, there is something they can do.

Through GriefNet and help support our work.
Browse Our Bookstore

GriefNet Home Page| First Page of This Section