Cancer is one of those things that I don’t like to think about often, but that has impacted my life directly and indirectly in many ways. According to more recent statistics, 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. This means that most of us probably know or have known at least one person that has battled this disease and have watched the pain that it has caused whether by the cancer itself or the treatments, not to mention the emotional, mental, and financial pain. Any way that we can bring pain relief to those we love going through this is and make their journey more bearable is priceless.

I had a close friend of mine, who was also a massage therapist, diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She was a mom of two beautiful girls, a loving wife, sister, friend, and all of the things. I remember her asking me to fill in for her at the office because she had an appointment for some gastrointestinal issues, thinking it was no big deal. When she received the news, it was devastating. I remember thinking, how is this happening? We were the same age; we were planning our kid’s 5th grade picnic and all the activities surrounding their last years of elementary school. It was surreal. I immediately went into “what can I do” mode. And that’s the thing, it that moment I felt completely helpless because I couldn’t make things better. I couldn’t take away the cancer. Sure, I organized some donations for the family to help financially and became a part of a food train where we all pitched in to help with meal planning, doing the tangible things that might ease some of the stress. What I also knew in that moment was I could provide healthy touch. I could help her with pain relief and emotional support through massage therapy.


My beautiful friend battled for about 2 years and passed 2 days after her birthday. Ironically, as I sit here writing this, I realized today is her birthday. I don’t believe in coincidence and know that was her way of reminding me that she is still here, guiding my words. During her span of chemo treatments and doing everything she could to remain on this earth for her family, I would massage her. Somedays, it was specifically for pain relief. Although I could not “massage” the cancer, massage therapy affects the parasympathetic nervous system that allows our bodies to “rest and digest”. It allowed her enough pain relief to “just be”. Therapeutic touch turned down the volume on those over-stimulated pain receptors, especially towards the end of her battle, where medication could do no more. I was able to be there and provide support through touch until just hours before she passed. Her transition was heartbreaking for so many reasons, and there was also a peace in knowing that she was not suffering any more.


This was a very personal, painful experience and was just one of the many I’ve had as a massage therapist supporting someone with cancer and being a part of their pain management care. I am grateful for the experience in that it prepared me to be able to support others in a way that I never knew was possible. On the flip side, I have also seen so many of my clients not only survive through the treatments, but also thrive after they have beat the disease. There is not one way that we approach cancer with our clients when is comes to pain management because every individual is so unique.

So, what is the protocol?

After a detailed intake of the client’s health history, including specific medications being taken, we would then devise a treatment plan. Generally speaking, a 60-minute session once a week is a good starting point when focusing on pain relief for cancer patients. From there, we see how they tolerate the session, what adjustments we need to make, if any, and keep a record of the highs and lows of their pain throughout the week. In most cases, the goal is to keep the individual comfortable. We are not trying to solve postural issues with deep tissue and myofascial release. Lighter bodywork tends to be more soothing and allows them to reconnect with their body while also allowing a safe space for the client to process the emotional rollercoaster of having cancer.


In listening to cancer patients speak about their journey’s, often they are not only dealing with the diagnosis and researching new ways to beat the disease, which is often where my mind immediately goes (I admit it…I’m a chronic “problem solver”). There are also so many underlying layers that we often don’t see or think about. Many of them want to stay strong for their families or friends. On top of everything else, they are worried about how the people they love are dealing with their illness. They may feel guilt. They may feel frustrated about feeling helpless. There are so many things that can be going on below the surface that they don’t want their loved ones to know about. That is another way that massage is extremely helpful. When that individual is on the table, in a private space, with a professional therapist, they have permission to let go and to move through this process. They don’t have the pressure to “stay strong”. They can just be, whatever that looks like in that day and time. It is a judgment free zone with zero expectations. It’s an hour escape that can make such a huge difference along that journey that nobody ever wishes to be on.


I know this is a tough subject, and I want to thank you for taking the time to read and educate yourself a more on how massage therapy can be and should be a part of the treatment plan regarding pain management and cancer. There are so many natural things that we can incorporate that work with our bodies and can allow for a much better quality of life after cancer. Pain is our bodies response to injury. It’s our job to investigate what our bodies are trying to tell us. We have an infinite wisdom that lives deep within all of us.

I am sending out all the love and light to anyone that has been affected directly or indirectly by this awful disease. Please know that you are never alone. And, as always, please feel free to reach out with any questions that you or your loved ones may have about this topic. God Bless.

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