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
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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.

Thoughts on the profession

The Imperfection of Sight

“It wigs people out when someone actually sees them.  And it wigs us out to fully see ourselves.”

I am fortunate to be able to teach in a number of different venues, and I love them all.  My favorite, though, is the almost overwhelming intensity of a short workshop. With a room of people who have chosen to spend their time and money in a very particular way.  I teach continuing education, and in the workshops we often take time to consider ourselves, and what version of ourselves we bring to our clients. 

A few days ago, we were talking about working with people who are seriously ill.  We were considering medical decisions, and what we might do if we are working with someone who makes a decision that is different from one we might make.  The question on the table was about a specific case; about our thoughts, resistances, and feelings.  It was about what we would do.

Everyone in the room took the time to think about the question.  They sat in their groups and talked animatedly with each other and when we came back together, they gave their thoughts in echoes. 

Of course we would work with this person. 

We are massage therapists.

It’s not our concern what decision someone makes.

And that was the end of it.  Or was it?

I agreed with and believed everything they said. We are compassionate professionals and we practice unconditional positive regard.  Everyone’s health care decisions are their own to make.

And yet.  After the work is done and the client feels better and we get home alone at night with our feelings and our truth, what is there? Is there only a practiced neutrality that never allows for any conflict or feeling of distress?  Are we that good?

We are not.  I know deep in my own being we are not.  Because we are human.  The thing we are good at is hiding the uncomfortable bits of ourselves.  Our fears.  Our prejudices.  Our anger and our hurt. 

There were only a few minutes of class left.  So, I took a deep breath and offered some homework.  Dig a little deeper, I said.  I told them the truth.  I had conflicted feeling about working with the person in our scenario.  I saw wasted resources in the decisions being made.  I have prejudices that are causing me tension around the whole situation. 

If we don’t take out our darkest feelings and consider them, how do we trust our light? 

Remember when you were a child and were scared of the monsters under the bed or in the closet? Remember that a swift antidote to those fears was to go and look.  Put on a light and see the places where your fears reside. 

ancient art artist artistic
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It wigs us out when we see ourselves.  Because when we do, we must acknowledge the parts of ourselves that are not kind, not loving, not full of unconditional positive regard.  In our oversimplified way, we might think this makes our kindness and love somehow invalid.  What is does, really, is give us the tools we need to make our kindness and love richer and more true.  It saves us from collapsing under the weight of our unacknowledged shadows.  It returns us to our wholeness. 

The students left with the homework.  I hope they went home and looked into their own hearts and saw everything, or a little closer to everything.  I know some of them did not.  But I believe some of them did, and that is enough.  It is imperfect and it is enough. 

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

Interdisciplinary

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 education, Thoughts on the profession

Job Description

The question that often follows “How long have you been doing this?” is: “How do you like this work?”  The answer is pretty easy.  I love it.

I’ve tried several other careers and even done well in a few, yet none of them held my heart and my interest like massage therapy.  This particular work is, for me, a fantastic blend of several different jobs.  I am a massage therapist, which means I am:

A Scientist

It started in school where I did a deep dive into the anatomy of the muscular system, and started on the path to learn more about Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology.  It continues now as I try to connect everything I do with some understanding of the working of the human body, and with information from the latest research I have been reading.  It is my job to be curious, to ask questions and to continue learning and discovering.

A Tradesperson

I learned a skill that I perform with my hands.  After my period of learning and apprenticeship (at the student clinic) I started practicing this skill and I work every day to further perfect and advance my skills.  I have apprentices (students) of my own now, and as I am guiding them through how to work with their hands, I am finding better ways to work with my own.

An Educator

Given the chance and the interest, I will talk to every client about what I notice and what that could mean for their particular body.  I will also take the time to talk through what massage might be able to address and what might need a different kind of support.

A Student

As I said to a client this week, I may be the “expert” in the room on muscles and soft tissue, but each client is the expert on their body.  I am here to learn from them.

An Artist
person with body painting
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every human, every human body, is unique.  Every day and space that body moves in is unique, so every time a person walks into my office it is the time to create something that never existed before.  Massage does not, for me, happen by formula.  It happens by being completely present in the moment so I can make something new that will never happen the same way again.

I have the opportunity to be all of these things, and sometimes more besides.  This week some asked me, “Have you always been a massage therapist?”  I’ve had lots of occupations, and this is the one that lasts because it pulls in all of those jobs.  It asks the most of myself and give the greatest rewards.

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
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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.

Thoughts on the profession

Electricity

Things happen when you travel, and sometimes you lose control.  And sometimes that is the best possible outcome.

I was settling in to my transition hotel before heading off for a week-long writing workshop.  I decided to treat myself to one last ridiculous dinner before heading up to the retreat center and their beautiful, healthy, locally sourced food.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the sky was divided in that clear way that happens to southern skies before a big thunderstorm.  It looked like a dark gray blanket was being pulled across the sky.  I got out of my car and walked quickly to the restaurant, looking forward to watching the rain from inside while enjoying a delicious meal.  Something was off about the restaurant, though, and as I got to the door I realized:  the power was out and the alarm lights were flashing inside.  I finally realized the sirens I had been hearing in the distance were actually getting quite close.

lightning above the green trees
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Well, I thought, I had snacks at the hotel, and an excellent book.  I drove back down the road to the hotel where I realized that the power was out there, too.  In fact, the approaching line of storms had somehow taken down the power for the entire area.  I opened my curtains, letting in the just-enough-to-read-by light and watched the storms roll across and pass through.  In the room next door, two young men were relaxing after a day of hard work on some local construction project.  As the rain pounded the roof, they sang along with their music and laughed heartily at each other’s jokes.  In fact, they continued singing and laughing for the whole hour or so we were without electricity.  When the power came back on, their room went quiet.  Instead of music and singing, I heard the low hum of their TV set.

I missed the noise and the laughter, and as I realized this I thought about my students.  About their general discomfort with wide open blocks of time.  I am getting better and better at letting the silence after a question sit until something surprising bubbles up from a student.  The students seem to be getting worse at sitting in the silence.  I wonder if they could take an expected block of time — like when the power goes out — and make a party of it.  And I wonder if they could ignore the power when it comes back on because they are enjoying the moment and the experience.

Teachers use a lot of electricity metaphors.  We spark ideas or discussion.  We look for the light bulb moments.  We complete circuits of ideas.  I think when I get from traveling, it may be time to turn off the power and see what we can accomplish without electricity.

massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage

The Impossible Task

board game business challenge chess
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I have two hours this coming Thursday to teach a roomful of massage students about Oncology Massage.  I will fail at this task.  I know I will fail because I have deliberately, and with careful attention, set myself up to fail.  I look forward to it.

If you’ve been around me for anything more than an hour or so, you know that I practice oncology massage, and I teach oncology massage basics whenever I can.  This is a three day, 24-hour, continuing education workshop where we routinely end the class by telling people how much more they have to learn.

About 8 weeks ago, when I took a good long look at the syllabus for the Pathology class I’m teaching, I saw that I had one class period to cover oncology massage.  Just one class.  Two hours.  To me, this is barely enough time to really make sure the class understands what cancer actually is, other than something you wear pink or run 5Ks to “cure.”  I decided that I needed to get in front of this topic right away.

The information I can cover in two hours is maybe just bordering on enough to give students the right intake questions to ask — the questions that will help them know when they need to refer someone to someone who is trained in oncology massage.

Fortunately for me, every class mentions a cancer of whatever system we happen to be studying, so I have frequent, relevant times to set expectations.  I have repeated variations on the phrase “more training is needed” since the first week of class.  I have tried to repeat often that the best therapists are those who work within their knowledge and skill set — those who are generous with admitting they don’t know something.  I am trying to set them up to know what they don’t know.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
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This Thursday, armed with our textbooks and the 70-or-so slides that go with it, we will attempt to talk through oncology massage.  We will fall short.  We will, in other words, fail.  And in doing so, we will gain the much more valuable knowledge of our own limits.  I will be happy with that.  If I can release these students from this class with more questions and curiosity than answers and certainty, I will have done my job well.

Let’s get to falling short.