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What I've Learned as a Massage Therapist at Huntsman Cancer Institute

Mary DeWall, LMT
Mary DeWall, LMT

What have I learned working as a massage therapist? I have learned there is hope for everyone who embarks on a cancer treatment journey. I have also learned that massage therapy can be an important part of the journey for cancer patients. There is something mysterious about the power of human touch and connection. I see the renewal patient’s feel after a session.

I first encountered cancer when my youngest brother was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I remember being terrified. I had heard about cancer but really knew nothing about it. That was 25 years ago and my brother is alive and well. When I became a massage therapist, I never imagined I would be working with cancer patients. But like some kind of calling, life led me to Huntsman Cancer Institute.

As a massage therapist at the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness & Integrative Health Center, I work with people during different stages of their journey with cancer— through their recovery and survivorship.

Some patients may be frail, which requires both flexibility from both patient and massage therapist during a massage. A lighter touch and a shorter session are often the most beneficial for the compromised patient. I learned to consider that other modalities and adjustments may be better suited for a patient since many cannot lay prone. The patient may need a medical device placed near their body, like an oxygen tank, port, implanted device, or even a colostomy bag.

Many of my patients are women in their 50’s and 60’s who are going through breast cancer treatment. I see patients that have undergone lumpectomies, mastectomies and reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. My patients carry emotional scars along with physical ones.

If I see a glowing smile and look of release when they walk out the door, I know I have succeeded.

Mary DeWall, LMT

Treatment plans and massages vary from relaxing to firm. Sometimes when anxiety and stress are the main issue, I suggest cranial sacral therapy or Jin Shin Jyutsu for calming, harmonizing, and relaxation.

It is essential to know the medical history of the patient in order to avoid harm. For example, bone metastases and many cancer treatments affect bone density. A patient might request deep pressure, but knowing they are at risk of injury would mean a lighter massage would be better. Sometimes a patient-first attitude requires you say “no”.

Caregivers get massages at the Wellness Center for a variety of reasons but they all have one thing in common: they are supporting someone with cancer. Family members are often the most stressed and under pressure as they step into roles they never imagined. They are often just as anxious and fatigued as the patient. We see patients and caregivers from all over the Intermountain area and beyond. They travel far for visits that can last for days or months. Being away from home for a long period time can be stressful. A massage can help center and ground them, offering time where they can let go.

At the end of day, the little things often make the biggest difference during a session. Common sense and compassion go a long way. Each individual has special needs that require your attention and presence. Holding an unexpressed intention of healing and wellness for each client creates a space for those energies to arise. If I see a glowing smile and look of release when they walk out the door, I know I have succeeded.

-Mary DeWall, LMT

Massage therapy is available to Huntsman Cancer Institute patients and caregivers. To schedule a massage appointment at HCI, call 801-587-4585. Appointments are available for HCI faculty and staff, space permitting.