Another client story:
Deirdre* is young. Barely out of childhood young. She has a rare cancer, which, in her body, showed up in an even rarer form. This massage appointment is a gift from people who can’t stop telling me how rare and remarkable she is. She greats me at the door with a knit cap on her bald head, tape over her port, and the biggest, most open smile I have ever seen. She hands me her completed intake form — she is so close to school that she turns it in and asks for feedback as if it were something I was going to grade.
Deirdre tells me the story of her cancer so far. Diagnosis received while out of town for vacation (“I thought I felt sick because of all the partying I was doing.”) Confirmation that her cancer was a very rare presentation (“I guess I’m rare and special.”) Description of how debilitating her first round of chemo was (“I was completely out of it, and it was my birthday. But if I wasn’t in the hospital, I would have gotten wasted on my birthday anyway, so it’s alright.”) She tells me this story with her big, open, gorgeous smile. She apologizes for how much she sweats as a side effect of her treatment.
I talk to her about oncology massage, and I ask her if she wants me to massage her scalp.
She puts her hand to her knit cap. “My scalp? You can massage my scalp?” I nod. I didn’t think it possible — but her smile gets bigger as she pulls off her knit cap. “I never thought I could have a scalp massage.”
She settles into a comfortable position for the massage. Deirdre’s mother comes into the room and folds blankets around her. Deirdre smiles at her mother and tells her, in the language they share, that she is going to have her head massaged.
Deirdre keeps her eyes open at first, taking mental notes like the good student she so recently was. As soon as I cradle her head in my hands, though, she closes her eyes and breathes. Her hand rests gently over her tumor site. Without her knit cap, bald head exposed, Deidre’s features emerge in stark, gentle purity. Her head radiates heat into my hands as I hold it.
I try to be neutral about my clients’ prognoses. They are with me to experience what it feels like to have a comfortable present. That respite, that moment out of time, is my honor to provide. Deirdre, though, with her face too young for lines and smile too open for tragedy — she makes me hope. Maybe, just this one time, a rare and difficult cancer could end in a rare and special cure.
*–name and identifying details have been changed