Straight Talk

By Leslie Young
[Editor's Note]

This is a story about two women—individuals among the
12 million-plus Americans who’ve been diagnosed with cancer (perhaps you are one, too).

One is recovering after a hellish year of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. She’s Mary Campbell from our Massage & Bodywork team, and she’s emerged strong and informed with her sense of humor intact. The other will soon mark a decade since she was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer. That would be me.

When Mary was diagnosed, she was stunned—of course—and I was angry. Enough already, I thought, but soon after I flunked some diagnostic tests and ended up shadowing Mary for a while as she braved treatment. Mine was just a scare, but we compared a lot of notes last year as we rode the pink ribbon merry-go-round.

By now you can imagine how passionate we are about this cover package on oncology massage. We thought about what we could contribute: straight talk.

• You can’t guess what you would do if you were diagnosed. You don’t know until you’re there. And we hope you never realize this.

• It’s OK to use the term survivor. From the moment someone is diagnosed, it’s relevant. And some days that means surviving the treatment as much as the cancer.

• If one of your clients is diagnosed, you can sympathize, but you cannot empathize. I don’t know what Mary’s been through; only Mary knows. You can care, but you really can’t identify.

• Don’t be surprised if your client refuses your nurturing touch right now. Fighting cancer means losing your privacy. Your client may need to cocoon for a while and that needs to be OK. 

• It’s natural to be uneasy. “If you’re unsure of what to do, just be there,” Mary says. A smile that says “I care” or a note that says “I’m thinking of you” can demonstrate your support.

• Be supportive and upbeat—or silent. We’ve already heard the horror stories. Instead, “Make us laugh!” Mary insists.

In fact, laughter has kept us going through Mary’s adventure. She and I pinkie swore we would not take her diagnosis seriously. But we hold our breath for test results and celebrate each win. The more scared we are, the harder we laugh.

Chances are you will massage a survivor, if you haven’t already, so please read and learn from oncology massage experts Gayle MacDonald (page 32) and Tracy Walton (page 40). They’ve dedicated their careers, so you can make a difference. Mary and I believe MTs can be ideally suited to this work, because you excel at holding space for another individual. Space for the client to cry, scream, or laugh. Space for the client to just be. And, ideally, space for the client to heal.


Leslie A. Young, Editor in Chief