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

Lizard Brains and the Power of Metaphor

Dear Ones, there are few things in live that give me the same intellectual warm fuzzies as a damn good metaphor.


And your very flesh shall be a great poem (Walt Whitman)

Hope is the thing with feathers (Emily Dickinson)

Beauty is truth, truth beauty (John Keats)


And oh so many more.  This is an occupational hazard of being a massage therapist who loves literature and language, and also really loves science.  Because science has delivered us some great metaphors.  They serve as a pathway to understanding our own bodies.  So eloquent and illuminating.  And yet, too often, so wrong.


Have you heard of the lizard brain?  That primitive part of our brain that controls basic survival functions and has no cortex for executive functions?  Maybe someone has brought out the lizard brain metaphor to explain their behavior in a stressful situation.  Or maybe you learned this in school as a way to remember how the cerebellum

red white and green chameleon
Photo by Egor Kamelev on

functions in relation to the rest of the human brain.


It’s a lovely little metaphor.  It’s easy to understand.  You only need to observe a lizard, or just know what a lizard is, to understand it.  It has kind of neat sound, too, with that “z” in the middle and the gong-like vowel sound at the end.  Satisfying.


And completely wrong.  See, our cerebellum is so much more complicated than I was taught in massage school.  (And, I’ll admit, than what I taught my first few classes of students.)   This “little brain” that we thought was only involved in coordinating movement actually has a hand (or a neuron) in almost all of what we do and think.

And we’ve known for a while that the idea that lizards don’t have a cerebral cortex is wrong.  They have a cerebral cortex — lizard version.  Of course it is very different from a mammal’s cortex, but it does exist.

We know all of this.  And yet the lizard brain metaphor persists.  I am wondering if maybe there is some usefulness to the metaphor.  Not as a way of understanding scientific reality, but perhaps as a way of understanding ourselves.  That messy, strange, shifting thing we may call our “being.”

We are not lizards, but we certainly share the planet with them.  And perhaps some behaviors.  Outside the realm of the classroom and brain science, could there be utility in understanding part of ourselves as lizard-like?  And harnessing that to control impulses, manage awareness, and grow into the humans we believe ourselves to be?

For my part, I will certainly strive for scientific accuracy in my classes, banning the phrase “lizard brain” from any materials.  In life, though, I may hold on to the metaphor for a little while longer.