(original post from 8/23/13)
Death is a scary thing. And yet it is one of the most uniting things that human beings can experience because, let's face it, there isn't one of us yet who hasn't died. And, like it or not, I don't expect that to change any time soon.
As I've begun to expand the number of clients I see who are either currently facing cancer or living with a cancer history, I've been intrigued by some of the reactions I get from people, often by other massage therapists. I've been asked, how do you do it, isn't it depressing? Don't you get scared? Why do you want to be faced with illness so often? And honestly, every time, each of these questions has taken me by surprise. I guess to me it seems so obvious. But perhaps it is my reaction that is surprising to many and not the questions they ask. Perhaps I do need to offer some insight to my personal reasoning and let you form your own thoughts on the subject.
I began to explore the niche of oncology massage right after graduating from massage school. My family has its share of both survivors and those lost to various cancers and I guess the idea just intrigued me on a personal level. At the same time I found myself working with a dear friend who was all too quickly dying from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. I'm not gonna lie, it was scary on all fronts. I had to learn how to be strong and supportive and professional for my friend while dealing with my own emotions of losing him. Through my training for oncology massage I had to learn about types of cancers and corresponding treatments and all the good, bad and the ugly that can accompany both. And of course, with all of that, I had to start to face my own fears about illness and death. I had to look all of that information square in the textbook and recognize that yeah, it could happen to me. It truly could happen to any of us.
So maybe there's the easy part of my answer. Maybe that is one reason why I do it. Because if and when it comes for me, I hope I have a support system the size of Texas that not only includes family and friends, doctors and nurses, and a host of really poisonous drugs to beat the crap out of it, but I also hope there are people who are willing to face their own fears to be a support to me. Me the whole person. Not just the part of my body that needs to be treated to live, but the whole entity of me that needs to be treated to survive and live well, or perhaps even, to die well. If you look at it that way maybe the reason I serve others dealing with cancer is because I hope my time and efforts, if needed, will some day serve me back.
I'll admit there is another reason, less karmic, more in the here and now, and to me it seems even more selfish than the first.
There is a show called "The Big C" where the main character is dying from cancer. That's the premise of the show. Morbid eh? But you know what? It's not. In my view, this show captures the sadness and the scariness of dealing with a life threatening illness, but it also shows the humor and love and hope that can still exist despite one. And with almost every episode (especially the further in you get) I watch and find myself laughing and crying and feeling frightened and scared and hopeful and humbled all at the same time. And those feelings, having all of those seemingly conflicting feelings in the same moment, makes me feel even more connected to my life and the rest of the human race. It breeds gratitude within me and helps me to appreciate this life that I have right here and now, in all of it's messy emotional glory, regardless of what may come.
And so that's the other reason of why I am in oncology massage. The reason that wasn't the initial draw but is what has drawn me further in. To me it is an honor and a humbling experience to serve someone who trusts you enough to be a part of their life while they are living it: good, bad, or ugly. I laugh with these people and care for these people, and sometimes, on the inside or after I go home, I might cry a little too. I have only lost one client to cancer out of many who are currently beating it or are now considered healthy and cancer-free. So does that sound depressing? To share a human experience with someone that let's me leave a session wanting to cry and laugh and pray and hope all at the same time? Maybe it does to you and I can respect that, but not to me. To me it is a gift. It's not for everyone, but right now it is definitely where I fit.
To all of my clients who entrust their time, their bodies, and themselves with me, whether you are fighting the Big C or blessedly, perfectly healthy, thank you. You give me the gift of enhancing my life every day by sharing yours with me.
With joy and ease,
"Unbeing dead isn't being alive."
~ E.E. Cummings
If you would like to learn more about how therapeutic massage might help you or someone you love who is facing a life threatening illness, please contact me and we can discuss your unique needs.