COUNTY, Calif. ó Nansea Gratz pulled off her fleece beanie,
the kind with little ears, revealing wisps of gray hair on an
otherwise bald head. She removed her fuzzy pink socks and
asked an attentive massage therapist to touch her feet,
because the peripheral nerves there were damaged and weak.
months of chemotherapy for stage 4 breast cancer had taken
their toll on this 61-year-oldís body from head to toe. But
the once-avid swimmer and hiker was about to experience a
short, blissful respite.
touch ó thatís whatís missing in modern medicine,"
Gratz said on a recent Sunday at a clinic for massage
therapists practicing modified techniques for cancer patients
like her. "Doctors do not touch you anymore. They stare
at their computers, looking at your scans."
Gratz was gingerly positioned on a massage table, her frail
body covered by soft green blankets, Rochelle Leffler got to
work. She dropped to her knees, bowed her head, closed her
eyes, gently placed her fingertips atop Gratzís head and
prayed for her hands to be healing.
her prayer, she slowly stroked Gratzís back, moving her
hands over the green blankets.
that pressure OK for you, Nansea?" she asked.
the Day, an Orange County nonprofit organization, is making
inroads into local hospitals, convincing often-skeptical
doctors to allow its specially trained therapists to give
20-minute massages to cancer patients at their bedsides. For
2015, it has added a fifth hospital to its roster.
careful, light massage to soothingly combat the assault that
chemotherapy and radiation launch on the bodies of cancer
patients isnít new.
began incorporating it more than two decades ago. In 1994, The
New York Times called it a growing trend in holistic medicine.
In a 1999 publication, the National Cancer Institute found
that about half of its cancer centers offered massage as an
still not universally embraced.
the Dayís executive director is Kim Mason, a yoga instructor
with experience running nonprofits, but who had known little
about oncology massage. Now much of her time is spent
spreading the word about it, showing skeptics that, if done
correctly, it can help patients feel better.
own doctor said to me, ĎWhy?í" she said. "We
have approached hospitals and have had them say no. Weíre
not in every hospital in Orange County. It was a process to
get into the ones we got into."
in 2005 by Dr. Christine Hrountas and massage therapist
Johnnette du Rand Kelly, Greet the Day got its start offering
spa services to cancer patients nearing the end of their
treatment. Then it began bringing volunteers to infusion
centers to massage cancer patients as they underwent
Kelly spent several months this year meeting with hesitant
doctors at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller
Childrenís and Womenís Hospital Long Beach before
convincing them to allow Greet the Day therapists to work in
their hospitals. She said she was peppered with questions
about how massage therapists tweak techniques for patients who
have had cancer metastasize to their bones, stem cell or bone
marrow transplants, fevers and other conditions such as
lymphedema and low white blood cell counts.
theory, according to the American Cancer Society, massage
could increase the risk of cancer cells moving to other parts
of the body. It could also cause weakened bones to fracture,
and even light touch might be uncomfortable to patients
undergoing radiation treatment.
massage therapists, we grew up being told not to practice on
cancer patients, because it would promote the spread of
cancer. That started changing in the late í90s, early
2000s," du Rand Kelly said.
group is flourishing. Over the summer, it trained 28 nurses at
UCI Medical Center to give hand, neck, shoulder and foot
massages to consenting patients, and in the new year will
start sending therapists to USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer
the Day has four paid therapists working in four hospitals in
Orange and Los Angeles counties, 15 interns and 36 volunteer
therapists who spend time at infusion centers.
doubled its revenue to $45,153 in 2012, according to its most
recent tax filing, thanks to increasing donations and grants,
and nearly doubled it again last year, Mason said. For 2014,
its volunteers and staffers had massaged 1,308 patients as of
mid-November, more than in any other year.
would say this year we had a great year," Mason said.
a certified massage therapist, describes herself as a
"deep massage person" who kneads athletic types in
her Hollywood practice.
years ago, cancer killed a close friend; five weeks later, it
took her uncleís life. She had massaged their hands and
feet, avoiding other parts of their bodies because she knew
very little about how to do it safely ó it was not part of
her training at massage school in the early 2000s.
mid-October, when Lefflerís 77-year-old mother was diagnosed
with cancer in a salivary gland, Leffler said, "It was
like OK, now itís struck under my roof. And so that really
motivated her to enroll in an oncology massage course, and
when she searched online for training courses, Greet the Day
was one of the first hits. So for $450, Leffler enrolled in
the groupís Institute of Integrative Oncology.
the three-day workshop in November, along with a dozen other
therapists and one nurse, Leffler reviewed clinical research
and learned how to position bodies and which areas to avoid,
including near the cancer site and spots affected by medical
most important lessons: modifying the direction of stroke if a
patient has lymph node or vital organ involvement, and
adjusting pressure to prevent bruising, bleeding and
inflammatory response and to protect bone integrity.
Sometimes, du Rand Kelly said, the touch is comparable to
picking a perfectly ripe avocado; other times itís so light
itís a "weightless" application of lotion.
are times and there are places where one can work with a
little more pressure, but itís a question of knowing when;
thatís why we have the training," she said.
and speed could fatigue patients, but it could also cause
blood cell counts to lower and lead to blood clots and nausea.
we use a pressure which is overly deep, it will trigger an
inflammatory response," du Rand Kelly said. "When
that happens, our white cells, which are already working
overly hard and in short supply, have to move in."
course culminated with the hands-on clinic, giving students
the opportunity to massage patients who had volunteered with
permission from their doctors.
feel like every cell in my body is very happy," said
Paula Vincent, 56, of San Pedro, who has breast cancer.
"The dichotomy of being pumped with toxic chemicals and
having someone touch you in a gentle healing way, it balances
out the experience of having the chemo so often."
massaging Gratz, Leffler asked questions about her tumor site,
treatment history, medical devices and medications.
as she touched Gratzís head, Leffler said, the emotions of
losing her friend and uncle came rushing back to her. She
started thinking of her mother, too.
I discovered is that ultimately itís really about focusing
all of your attention on a human being, which massage always
is, but the end result is different: Make someone feel better,
give them the opportunity to escape," Leffler said.