Inner World, Oncology Massage

Into the Rabbit Hole

I have a writing task.  A big one.  I am choosing to take the advice of The Little Book of Talent and keep the biggest plans secret.  It’s not important to know exactly what the task is, just that it is.


I have been a writer since second grade.  Our teacher told us to write a Halloween story, and I went to town.  I had elaborate costumes, a haunted house, multiple plots coming together, and a hero facing certain ruin by ghosts.  I also had what I later learned was a deus ex machina — an ending dropped from the sky where the hero of the story got to survive and get away all in one piece.


Okay, it was a ghost extinguisher.  I gave my hero a ghost extinguisher.


So, maybe plot-wise, it wasn’t my best effort.  But for sheer love of the process of writing, it was enough to keep me hooked for years.  I can still feel what it was like to sit at the dining room table and write that story.  How I could hardly move my pencil fast enough.


As many things do, writing became both easier and harder as I grew up.  I learned about plot and foreshadowing.  About the nuances of character and exposition.  I also started writing essays, nonfiction.  I practiced translating facts into a readable story.  I found that this worked best for me if I had piles of facts and supporting facts that I could pick and choose from in the process of writing.


I felt most comfortable drawing from a deep well.


close up of rabbit on field
Photo by Pixabay on

Which brings me to today —  my writing task, based in fact and research and looming large over my life for the next several months.  I am breaking it into smaller pieces, and finding that each piece comes with its own rabbit hole attached.  These pieces sit before me like tiny cyclones, and if I’m not careful I could get sucked into the vortex of each one, disappear for a while, and come back with not even a pair of ruby slippers to show for it.


Today I am perched on the edge of a rabbit hole, trying not to dive in.  If it weren’t so fascinating, if every piece of information didn’t lead to twelve others, if I could just write one crappy sentence —


There it is.  The thing I keep banging up against is the first sentence.  More precisely, allowing the first sentence to be crappy and moving forward anyway.  Because, as I used to tell my writing students, revision is more than half of the writing process.


It may help me to look at this craft the same way I look at the craft of a massage.  Prepare.  Deeply and thoroughly prepare.  Then, when the person is in front of me, empty my mind and trust that the training is there.  Right where I left it.  Just make contact and go.


Just write that crappy first sentence and go.  Forward.

Book Review, Oncology Massage

Surrounded by Books

As the sun sets earlier and we have more hours of darkness here in the northern hemisphere, I am stockpiling things that being with “B:”


Beverages (hot)

and . . . .  Books!


blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on

Ah, books. (swoon) I have sloughed off large portions of my collection of books each time I moved. In compensation, I now live a ten-minute walk from a library. And a five-minute walk from the local independent bookstore. In the past few weeks, I discovered two books that I needed to own.  One is on my dresser for nighttime reading. One is on my desk for copious note-taking and cross-referencing.  They are both well worth the money I spent on them.


At this writing, I haven’t finished either one, but I am enjoying them both so much, that I thought I’d share this little pre-review.  I encourage you to pick one or both of these up for some winter evening nerd time. (And please do so at your local library or indie book store.)


The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I think I squeaked out loud when I saw this on the bookstore.  Mukherjee’s other book, The Emperor of All Maladies, is one that made it through multiple moves. I have it near my desk for reference even as I write this. In his new book, he takes on the history of the gene, in all its scientific, social, and controversial glory.  This book is thick, with lots of pages and tiny print.  The stories are compelling and suspenseful.  I mean, I know about Gregor Mendel and the pea plants, but reading this story as told by Mukherjee was fascinating in a completely new way.  Plus, as a person who loves a good pun, I couldn’t be happier that he worked “give peas a chance” into this story.  And that the book’s editors let it lie.


The Breakthrough, by Charles Graeber

I heard about this one through the Kentucky Author Forum.  It just so happened that I had been talking with a colleague about immunotherapy and how to include it in oncology massage education. I saw that Charles Graeber was coming to talk about his new book, which is all about immunotherapy.  I bought the book at the event, and I have been devouring it ever since.  No doubt about it, this guy is a storyteller. He does take care to get enough of the science in the book, and to explain it correctly, but the power of this book is in the stories.  I’m reading about the years-long process of finding a particular cellular protein, and it reads like a thriller.  I’m pretty sure this is not just because I’d be interested anyway.


When the massages are done, and the dishes are washed and the evening stretches out before me, I’ll be reading wrapped in a blanket, drinking hot tea from a really big mug, and reading one of these books.

Somewhere in there, I might take a break to think about another “B” that I am gathering —

Boarding pass


But that’s a subject for another blog.

massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Good Conversation, Better Work

For the past couple of months, I have had the immense privilege of hosting Healwell’s online webinar series, The Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery.  This past Sunday was Episode 2, featuring Janet Booth, my new best friend and amazing, thoughtful human.  We spent an hour talking about end of life care, and what it takes for practitioners to serve clients at the end of life.  By the end it was clear — we needed at least two more hours.


marketing man person communication
Photo by Gratisography on

Talk is amazing.  And talk is cheap.  I found myself wondering this morning about the practitioners who watched the webinar, and whether anything practical was happening. We talked a lot about doing the inner work necessary to serve other humans.  Across the video conference lines, there was a sea of nodding, agreement, engagement and awareness.  Now, in our separate states, are we doing that inner work, or are we playing Candy Crush on our phones and ignoring our own uneasiness?


Since Sunday evening, I have been noticing all the ways I avoid or numb out.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of them.  It’s not always things that are clearly unhealthy.  Sometimes it’s exercise.  Or a book.


I had a new client a while back, coming for a massage after several months of not receiving massage.  Healthy, right?  Good self care?  Yet — I wonder.  During the intake I learned this new client had just received some very difficult health information.  Just received, as in about a half hour before the massage appointment.  The client made it clear that the entire massage was a time to forget this looming diagnosis.


It is not my place to tell someone how to handle their own bad news.  It is my place to serve without judgement and to create a place of safety.  But that client stayed on my mind for a long time.  I wonder if there is a place where that person can acknowledge what they feel in a place of safety and comfort.


Is there a place to be comfortable with our own discomfort.


I am working on creating that place and carrying it around me wherever I go.


Oncology Massage

Goodbye Senator, Goodbye Victor

On August 25, Senator John McCain died at age 81 of glioblastoma.  Before his diagnosis, many of us were fortunate enough to have no idea what glioblastoma even was.  Maybe our only exposure to terminal brain cancer was through stories about Brittany Maynard.

Now we’ve heard of glioblastoma because someone we know — someone famous — had it.  I first learned of McCain’s death through a news update from Cure Magazine, a cancer resource publication.  This strikes me as yet another reminder that cancer touches all of us, no matter where we come from or what we do for a living.

And it reminds me of another thing that touches all of us — death.  At some point in his treatment, McCain stopped receiving treatment.  I have no idea of the conversations and thought and emotion that went into his particular decision.  I have been around clients and family members who made those decisions, though.  In particular, I am thinking of my own Grandfather.

My Grandfather had breast cancer (about 1 in 10,000 men get breast cancer) which went into remission after first rounds of treatment.  After a number of years, doctors discovered metastasis in his liver.  Already in his 80s, my Grandfather opted out of further treatment and instead, he and my Grandmother called hospice.

I lived in a different city at the time, newly independent and settling in to a big city job.  When I heard about his prognosis, I decided I needed to call him.  So, one morning, I did.  My Grandmother answered the phone.  I told her why I was calling.  She conferred for a minute with my Grandfather, then she got back on the line.  In her loving, sweet and gentle way she said, “He doesn’t want to get on the phone.  It’s just too hard.”

candlelight candles
Photo by Irina Anastasiu on

In that moment I understood, because I knew him, that he was offering me a final act of love.  I suspect he knew we would never see each other again, and maybe he wanted me to remember him as he had always been, controlled and in control.

This is not the place to debate over whether he chose wisely or not in that moment.  The point is, he chose.  And his choice came from a place of love and care for me and for himself.  I believe this is true.

Senator McCain used some of his last days to express a great love — his love for this country.  Whether or not we agree with his final votes in the Senate, the point is that he made them.  Out of love for democracy, and love for the people he served as Senator.

Like my Grandfather, Senator McCain’s expressions of love may seem strange or ill-chosen.  Today I am reflecting on the fact that we don’t get to choose or direct how another human being expresses love.  We can, however, keep our hearts open to it and acknowledge its truth.



massage education, Massage Tales, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession


How about a quick peek into the emerging future of healthcare?

Interdisciplinary:  integrating knowledge and approaches from a variety of different approaches

Interdisciplinary Team: a group of professionals from multiple disciplines working together toward a common goal

I have been thinking and reading a lot about interdisciplinary teams in healthcare.  As the abstract “aging American population” becomes more concrete, both in my practice and my personal life, I am seeing humans who interact with multiple professionals, all for their individual care and keeping.  I am seeing this done very very well, and very very not-so-well.

What is clear to me is this:   the future of healthcare is interdisciplinary.  It is both necessary and desirable that humans have access to multiple professionals to address the multiple and complex needs of their healthcare.  Also:  the future requires us to communicate with one another.  While I know and massage and sometimes take care of people who are receiving interdisciplinary care, that does not always include great communication.

Take, for example, the cancer patient who also has hypertension*.  The oncologist and the nephrologist ask the patient for reports from other physician visits, but they are not asking to communicate directly with each other.  And neither of them wonders about the massage therapist who has been working with the patient since the cancer diagnosis.

In an ideal interdisciplinary world, patients could have access to a wide range of professionals and those professionals would speak to each other on a regular basis.  They might even, I don’t know, learn from each other and gain creative insights into sticky healthcare questions.

Unicorns!  Fairies! Rainbows!, you say?

This is not only possible, it is happening.  Wouldn’t you like to hear from a real interdisciplinary team about how they put it together, how they keep it going, and maybe even how the massage therapy profession can contribute?

You are in luck!

Starting this September, I will be hosting a monthly webinar series for Healwell where we explore these very questions.  We have secured some of the most interesting people working in healthcare today — the people who are asking the questions and creating the change.  Come and join us for the Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery, where we explore how to deepen our service to the humans we care for, and broaden our perspective to invite collaborations, curiosity and plain old increased clinical knowledge.

We are going to have some fun, challenging, thoughtful, and (best of all) interactive conversations. Join me to take a peek at the disruptors, innovators, and smartest people working in healthcare today.


*–patients mentioned are composites or theories and do not represent actual humans

Massage Tales, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Don’t Rush the Intake

I have unusual leisure in my practice — I can usually take as long as I feel necessary for an initial intake.  Despite the added stress of being in business for myself, this leisure is one of the things that makes it all worth while.  Here’s a story about that.   All client details have been changed.

My new client arrived late.  She had trouble finding the building, then had to circle around a few times to find parking.  She walked in already a bit anxious because of the time, and because it was her first massage.  I left her in the quiet of the waiting area to finish the health history form and assured her there would be time for most of the scheduled session.

She handed back her completed form, and we began our conversation.  I took my time, making sure to ask about everything she had marked on the form.  After I felt sure that I understood her health history, I told her what to expect during the massage:  how to get onto the table, what parts of her body I would touch and in what order, how draping worked, etc.

She smiled and nodded through this whole explanation.  As I finished she said, “That all sounds so good.”  She paused. “I want you to know, though, that when you get to the front part of my legs I might tense up a little,” she raised her shoulders and tensed her arms, then released them, “See, I’ve been sexually assaulted and I just might be a little nervous.”  She had a friendly smile on her face and tears in her eyes.

I settled further down into my seat.  We had more conversation about how she was in charge of the massage, and that she could tell me at any time to change or stop what I was doing.  “You get to direct how and where you are touched,” I told her.

If I had to rush the intake, I might have missed this vital fact about how she experienced her own body.  I certainly would have missed the chance to reinforce for her that she has dominion over her own body.  I might have never been able to build enough trust with this other human that she revealed her own fears to me.

person holding hand
Photo by Pixabay on

She arrived late, and the intake took longer than “normal.”  In that extra time, she was able to trust me a little more and reveal something vitally important.  This helped me approach her with more compassion and awareness.  She emerged from the massage smiling wide.  She thanked me and gave me a hug, and made an appointment to come back again.  This never would have happened if I rushed the intake.

Massage Tales, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Hospice Dogs I Have Known

I have two stories for you this week, about massage and dying and dogs.

Here is what I knew:  the patient was young*, surrounded by family, and declining.  I knew the diagnosis. And I knew there was a dog in the house.

adult black taiwan dog laying down on grass lawn
Photo by Lukáš Kováčik on

The dog greeted me at the door a few seconds after the patient’s family member.  She was big.  Her head came almost to my chest.  She had deep, soulful eyes.  She gently walked up to me and nudged her nose into my hands.  I stood still, held my hands out for her and let her run her nose along my fingers.  After about a half a minute, she turned and walked towards the patient’s room.

The patient mostly communicated by gesture and facial expression.  Family members told me the patient was in and out of “being here.”  I stood by the patient’s side and introduced myself, and I said, “Your dog is amazing!”  The patient turned to face me, eyes sparkling and alert.

As I worked with the patient, the dog would come in the room at regular intervals.  Sometimes she stood right next to me, watching what my hands were doing.  Sometimes she laid her head on the bed and gazed up at the patient.  Sometimes she simply stood in the door of the room, looking.  She moved slowly, deliberately and with infinite grace.  She never made a sound, except for the soft padding of her feet on the floor and her even breathing.

After the massage was done,  I held the patient’s hand and said thank you.  I found my own way to the door, leaving the patient relaxed and quiet with his family in the room.  Before I left, I looked off to my left, and I saw the dog standing at the end of the hall.  Calm, still, and waiting.

I walked through the gathered grief of her husband and her daughter to get to the patient’s bedroom.  The patient laid in the center of a king-sized bed, nothing moving but her eyes, which were sharp and clear.  At her hip sat a small white dog, head resting on its paws looking like it was asleep.

nature animal dog pet
Photo by Pixabay on

As soon as I started the massage, the dog opened its eyes and watched me, head still resting on its paws.  I stepped up toward the head of the bed and cradled the patient’s head in my hands.  The dog stood up and turned to face me directly.  It nodded once, as if to say, “Yes.  That’s it.”  Then it turned, curled up and went to sleep, nestled against the patient’s hip.

Animals know.  When we are deep in extremis, our pets somehow know and they show us how to simply be, and be present.  Some of the deepest and most meaningful interactions I have had with humans have come mediated by their pets.  From them, I am learning how to pay attention, be still, and just breathe and move with infinite grace.


*–identifying details about patients (and their pets) have been changed