In recent times, massage has taken on something of an art form for developing and maintaining good health via its capacity to stimulate, invigorate and relax mind and body. Massage stimulates blood circulation, assists with lymphatic (waste) drainage, as well as easing away tightness in muscle and soft tissue, whilst simultaneously toning up the nervous system. Massage is in fact now widely used among cancer patients, both to relax and ease fears associated with diagnosis, as well as of relieving the discomforts of anti-cancer treatment. It is also proving beneficial to patients suffering from an array of illnesses as diverse as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and motor neurone disease. Massage should not however, be considered suitable for people suffering from phlebitis (inflammation of the veins) thrombosis (blood clotting) varicose veins or in the event of fever. Indeed, in the case of illness of whatever nature, it must always be considered wise counsel to consult one’s medical practitioner before embarking upon this (or indeed any other) form of complementary therapy.
Certainly, many cancer patients known to me have obtained significant and sustained help from body massage, where applied by accredited and experienced therapists. However, sometimes it has been at the hands (quite literally) of a close relatives, e.g. spouse/partner/friend who has received tutelage in some appropriate form, e.g. from an approved textbook or course, or whatever. Here then is a very genuine and extremely effective way of both giving and of finding support and I shall conclude this blog on the manifold benefits of simple human touch and contact of this form, with an account, which I hope and believe will very firmly make that very point.
Duncan was a delightful young man in his mid-twenties who had succumbed to testicular seminoma (a malignant tumour of the testes) several months earlier. Despite ‘state of the art’ treatment (for the late 70s/early 80s) and a tremendous fight for life, made by a man who we had all come to respect and indeed admire, Duncan developed secondary tumours in his lungs and was losing ground rapidly. We were all only too acutely aware of his continuing deterioration, as was indeed Duncan himself and his lovely and attentive fiancée, Fiona.
What the consultant responsible for Duncan’s treatment described to me as “last ditch” treatment was tried and for a short time, seemed to be doing a holding and containing job, but alas… One severe cost of this most recent treatment was what at one point seemed to be almost uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Those were the days of only “first generation” anti-sickness drugs and well thankfully, massive strides have been made since that time in this regard.
One night Duncan was stretched out on the bed in his sideward in utter exhaustion. It was a warm and sultry summer’s evening, as he lay on the bed facedown in pyjama ‘bottoms’ only. A student nurse, who as an extra-curricular activity was attending classes on “Therapeutic Massage” (which incidentally is quite different to Therapeutic Touch or TT) happened to be on duty that evening. As she sat beside him on the edge of the bed, she began to gently massage his exhausted and aching body, with a tenderness and sensitivity that was wonderful just to behold.
Despite everything else, which had been tried and had failed, Duncan responded favourably and so following a massage for his back and arms, the nurse set to work on his feet and toes also. The transformation was little short of remarkable. Quite spontaneously, we also began to combine massage with a slow and soft narration of a simple relaxation strategy, which had proved beneficial to Duncan in the past. (I will write to you describing such relaxation methods anon). At last, we had fastened on to something – a simple therapy some thousands of years old – which was now clearly bringing relief, where previously all else had appeared to fail.
When some three weeks later, Duncan and Fiona were married in a simple but incredibly moving ceremony, both Dawn (the nurse) and I were present, with others, as invited guests. By this time, she had begun to pass some of her own skills on to Fiona, who used them to great effect right to the end, when sadly, Duncan died peacefully at home. The last I heard of Fiona was in the form of an, as ever, kind letter from her to say that she had moved south – in fact to the West Country – to her parents’ home. There she intended to remain for a while but had already made enquiries about the possibilities of training and gaining accreditation as a Masseur. Her strong desire and intention – at that time at any rate – was to carry out such work in the community and in hospital and hospice settings. You may recall that I made a point earlier in this letter to the effect that touch is not a cure: but it sure can heal!