Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center

Q&A with Vinings Massage & Wellness’ Cara Thurman on Oncology Massage

6/14/2019, Georgia CORE

Cara Thurman is the owner of Vinings Massage & Wellness in Vinings, Georgia. She is trained in providing massage therapy for oncology survivors both during and post treatment. Cara sat down with Georgia CORE’s Program Manager, Katreena Mitchell, to discuss all things related to oncology massage.

Katreena: Can you begin by telling us what oncology massage is and what makes it different from other types of massage?

Cara: Oncology massage is an approach to massage therapy based in both compassion and specialized massage treatments to help people manage their experience in cancer. There are many reasons that it’s different. Instead of targeting a problem, we are looking to treat the individual as a whole person. There is a lot less pressure and lower movement with this type of massage – this allows us to encourage the body to kick in its relaxation response. This is helpful for many cancer patients in treatment that are experiencing “fight or flight” due to the stressful time that they are enduring. The relaxation response that is prompted during massage allows survivors to create more energy for healing and fighting cancer.

Oncology massage is known to address the “Big Five” cancer symptoms commonly which are: sleep deprivation, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and chemo infused peripheral neuropathy.

Katreena: Why is it important for survivors to see a massage therapist trained in oncology massage while going through cancer treatment?

Cara: Those trained in oncology massage will always consider what a client has involved in their treatment and care plan when crafting a massage for the client. This includes, but isn’t limited to, any long and short- term medications, what effects they may have on the client, lymphedema, blood cell count and various kinds of medical devices. We will then structure the massage as appropriate, which often means staying away from certain parts of the body or using a lighter touch. We will also consider metastasis and understand that if it has reached the bone, we have to be mindful of that when conducting the massage. It’s important that a survivor see a massage therapist trained in oncology massage because if not, they could possibly feel worse after the massage is complete.

Katreena: Are there any risks in receiving massages during any phases of treatment?

Cara: As long as the therapist is trained in oncology massage, there shouldn’t be any risks. Survivors should be able to take advantage of oncology massages by a trained therapist through all stages – from diagnosis, during active treatment, during remission, and even hospice care.

Katreena: How are massages tailored for patients through their various treatment stages?

Cara: Typically, when someone first begins oncology massage, it may feel like a normal massage because newly diagnosed patients don’t typically feel as sick. But as the journey moves on and side effects increase, the massage begins to be more tailored and structured to that individual’s needs. The massage therapist will also ensure that it’s safe for that person. Often times, light pressure will be used during the later stages of treatment, and if the patient is in hospice, we will commonly use holds that have been found to be very beneficial to those in the last stages of life.

Some believe that survivors should see an oncology trained massage therapist for the rest of their life (especially if there has been lymph node involvement) because the therapist will keep in mind what the survivor experienced and any possible complications that may arise from that. At a minimum, survivors should use an oncology massage trained therapist for the first five years post treatment.

Katreena: What self-care suggestions do you have for survivors currently undergoing active treatment as well as post treatment?

Cara: During treatment, survivors should take the time they can to do what helps them the most. This may be massage, yoga, cooking etc. Post treatment, survivors should continue to implement what helped them during treatment.

Katreena: Why should patients tell their massage therapist that they are a survivor and/or going through active treatment?

Cara: When searching for a massage therapist, survivors should try to find oncology based massages for their massage care. It’s important for the company to know before providing massage services. Most intake forms will ask if the client has ever had cancer. If they are booking online and don’t see that option, they should call to see if there is someone there that is trained in oncology massage to ensure their safety.

Katreena: Georgia CORE’s needs assessment survey found that survivors have many psychologically driven unmet needs. How can oncology massage help with those?

Cara: Psychologically driven needs are very common. Many survivors do experience lifelong anxiety about the cancer coming back. One saying that we have in massage therapy is that the “issues are in your tissues.” Meaning that as human beings, when we have high levels of stress, we can hold that feeling in different parts of our bodies - muscles, stomach, hands, ears etc. What we want to do as humans is take a gentle approach and tell the body to calm down, stop firing and kick in that relaxation response. The more this happens as a survivor, the less stress one is likely to feel.

Katreena: How can those of us in the cancer field find out more about massage therapy so that we can make informed decisions on referring this to patients?

Cara: My top resources are:
Tracy Walton, Tracy is a content expert in the field of massage therapy and cancer. She is a researcher, educator, writer and massage therapist.

Society 4 Oncology Massage – It’s a national nonprofit that’s dedicated to advancing the knowledge surrounding oncology massage. They share recent studies on oncology massage and they also have a map on their site where people can search for trained oncology massage therapists in their area.

Katreena: Tell us about the massage program for cancer patients at Piedmont Healthcare.

Cara: We contract with the Chapman Family Cancer Wellness Center at Piedmont in Atlanta and Fayetteville to administer chair massages for patients with cancer that are undergoing active treatment. Patients that are interested do not have to be a patient of the Piedmont Healthcare system, but they do have to have a doctor’s release.

Massage therapists are at the Atlanta location on Monday through Thursday from 10am-3pm and at the Fayetteville location on either Tuesday or Wednesday weekly and provide a 30 minute chair massage. Patients and caregivers can call 404-425-7944 to inquire about an appointment or find out more information.

Cara can be reached at 404-492-8582 or cara@viningsmassage.com.

Special Offer: Vinings Massage will provide a special gift to anyone that books and mentions Georgia CORE.

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