from Shannon Miller, LMBT
Let's face it, there isn’t anyone you can talk to these days who has not been affected directly, or doesn’t know someone who has been affected, by cancer. A brother, a wife, a co-worker a neighbor, an old friend. Thankfully, over decades, the vision of cancer care has broadened, to not just the eradication of the disease and to keep people alive, but to “live well”.
Consistently, Oncology Massage is reported as a popular complementary modality and clinical research shows that massage can be safe and beneficial for people in, or with a history of, cancer treatment. There are huge benefits to this work, which include reduced stress, temporary reduction of pain, increased energy, decreased nausea and anxiety, improved sleep, improved appetite, increased feelings of well-being, peace, acceptance and remembering Joy.
Oncology Massage therapists have received advanced training and will ask for more medical information and history from their clients, than a typical visit to a spa or private therapy session would require. Although for some, it is a lengthy intake, it ensures the most safe and effective session possible. Oncology Massage Therapists know that each patient has been through a barrage of medical experiences and may just need to distance themselves from that part of their life, while trusting that their particular medical concerns are known and understood. People in cancer treatment work hard to “keep on going”, a massage gives them permission to stop, even if just for an hour.
An Oncology Massage Therapist provides a safe and warm holding space, where deep human compassion and caring are communicated not necessarily with words but through touch. To be touched. To be seen. To be cared for. A cancer survivor of 10 years, will require vastly different massage modifications than someone currently undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatment, and yet another may be receiving massage because medical treatment is no longer an option. But human, compassionate touch and presence are vital and always an option.
The Society for Oncology Massage offers a Therapist Locator to help you find a trained oncology massage therapist who can provide safe, effective massage therapy for people affected by cancer, which includes those in active treatment as well as those with a cancer treatment history.
“Massage Therapy is not contraindicated in cancer patients. Massaging a tumor is, but there is a great deal more to a person than the tumor“ Bernie Siegel, MD
A mandala (Sanskrit for “circle” or “completion”) is an art therapy technique that can be a powerful tool for gaining insight and self-awareness. It is a circle composed of lines, shapes, and symbols that has been used for centuries to represent wholeness and unity, or as an object of meditation. When I created my first mandala, looking at a blank circle I wondered what I was “supposed” to draw. Then I compared my basic image of a sunset to my classmates’ mandalas and wondered what the point of this was. My negative judgments and expectations set me up for frustration and feelings of failure.
Do you remember being a child playing with art materials? Before your ego was developed, you were able to make art without a care in the world. In life, when we make judgments about what things “should” be like, we can end up feeling frustrated and disappointed when reality doesn’t meet our expectations. It is natural to make judgments, but we see things through the lens of our own experiences, rather than how they are in reality. For example, you might think your art looks “bad,” but in reality, it is nothing more than lines, colors, and shapes on a piece of paper. You are the one who creates meaning out of it. I never attempt to interpret my clients’ artwork, but instead ask questions to help the person find meaning in their own creation. And if they don’t know what it represents, that is okay too.
Many times, our struggles in life are not the situations we find ourselves in but the meaning we make of them. When we allow ourselves to approach life with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance, we can start living with our eyes wide open. We can use our imagination to be flexible in our thinking and identify options. Imagination houses our deepest fears and inadequacies, but also allows us to look at things outside of the box.
I often integrate mindfulness practice into my work with clients using mandalas as a tool for reflection and gaining insight into one's inner world. When we can create with an open mind, we can find deep meaning and significance in our work. By identifying and talking about these images that emerge, we can work on resolving many of the underlying issues that are causing discomfort in life. The images act as a stimulus that allows us to examine parts that have not been serving us well.
Now that I create mandalas with an attitude of playfulness and with no expectations, I can actually enjoy the process of being free to use whatever materials, colors, lines, and shapes that feel right to me in the moment. This freedom allows me to put my inner world out into a tangible form. Sometimes I do not see anything profoundly meaningful in the resulting artwork, but it is still a relaxing mindful process. Other times, it can be a powerful experience to recognize symbolism and meaning that was not planned or intentional.
This is an image one of my clients drew to demonstrate how she felt when she first started therapy. She described herself as being on the edge of a black hole, about to fall in, and seeing me as her only lifeline.
This was a mandala the same client created several months into our work together. It reflected things that gave her life meaning as well as issues she was still struggling with.
You’re hearing it in schools, in the workplace, and on social media, this idea or concept of being “mindful” or “mindfulness”. So, what exactly is this “new” technique that everyone is talking about?
The concept of mindfulness has been around for centuries. Mindfulness provided the way in early Buddhism to liberation, “constantly watching sensory experience in order to prevent the arising of cravings, which would power future experience into rebirths”. It is believed that the practice of dhyana, which is a series of cultivated states of mind that lead to a “state of perfect equanimity and awareness” may have been the original core practice of the Buddha, which aided the maintenance of mindfulness.
Today in modern psychology we look upon mindfulness as the process of developing the skill of bringing one’s attention to whatever is happening in the present moment. To really allow ourselves to experience what is happening to us and around us at an exact moment in time, to “stop and smell the roses”.
Although it can sometimes seem very challenging to tap into ourselves at certain moments, with practice through a series of different skills and techniques, such a meditation and deep breathing exercises, you can learn how to be present in the moment, which can have a profound impact on your mind, body and soul.
The act of being mindful can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety and provide an overall sense of calmness when done regularly.
I have used mindfulness techniques and skills throughout my therapeutic practice to help clients feel more centered and aware of their emotional state. The wonderful thing about some of these techniques is that they can be applied anywhere at any time, allowing us a moment to regroup and reset in a sometimes very hectic day.
One technique that can be used anywhere is Anchoring. It is a wonderful way to calm yourself and refocus your thoughts. You start by directing your attention into the lower ½ of your body. Begin by focusing on your feet and how they feel inside your socks or shoes and against the ground. Expand your attention to include the sensations in your lower legs and then your upper legs. Do they feel heavy or light? Warm or cold? Tingly or numb? Now move upwards to include the sensation of your breathing, really focus and concentrate on relaxing as you exhale each breath. Continue to do this until you feel you have centered yourself and are in a calm state.
This is a great exercise you can do any time with your eyes open or closed, while sitting, or even as you are walking around. This exercise can help you be mindful of your own body and what you are experiencing at that moment. It allows you to let go of negativity and center yourself in a positive calm state of mind.
So, the next time you are feeling stressed or just need a moment, be Mindful, anchor yourself and then breathe.