top background

How the relationship between spas and cancer is changing

Amanda Winwood - high res

Amanda Winwood is the Managing Director of Made for Life Organics products.  She leads the way for improved treatments, therapist training and products for anyone with cancer or any stage of wellness.  Here, she writes about the positive changes taking place to improve spa experiences for anyone with cancer…

At Made for Life Organics a lot of our work revolves around training therapists.  What we do is about real care and authenticity. We want therapists to be able to deliver treatments that really make a difference to individuals.  If it’s just done for the sake of ticking a box it will probably work, but it isn’t the same.

Made for Life is tucked away in Cornwall most of the time, and until 2003 I didn’t really realise there was such a problem when it came to spas treating people with cancer.  We had developed a treatment that we had been using for over 12 years. The fact there was an issue was brought to my attention by Lifehouse Hotel and Spa, who had really been leading the way in making a difference.  That was the impetus for me to do what I could to make change.

Giving therapists confidence

The big thing that’s changing in the way spa therapists treat people with cancer, is confidence.  In the past spas and spa therapists have been a position of fear. That had been emphasised by college training and a lack of understanding.  My belief is that this is stopping now and there are training providers, like us, collaborating with colleges to create an understanding that you can welcome people with cancer with confidence.  

There is also a real sense of purpose for a lot of therapists.  Most don’t go into the wellbeing profession to make huge amounts of money.  They want to make a difference to people. So it’s amazing watching therapists go through our training and then be able to welcome people for whom they can really make a difference afterwards.  To see that in action is profoundly moving. We treat people at all stages of cancer, whether they are coming to the end of life or starting treatment. Experiencing a wonderful and caring touch changes perspectives and is life affirming.  That’s what spas are about, making people feel better.

Developing empowering training for therapists

The key to therapist confidence is informed and empowering training.  Our training specifics took a long time to develop. We worked with the oncology specialists and other cancer charities such as Macmillan at Royal Cornwall Hospital.  We liaised with oncology massage therapists, The Mermaid Centre and other senior advisors and experts to achieve our goal which was to develop training in such a way that meant people with cancer didn’t feel they needed to have specific ‘cancer only’ treatments.    

We have particular principles developed through research.  Our research showed that therapists wanted standard protocols that could be amended to treat anyone with cancer at any stage.  So we train and educate therapists them how to amend treatments if someone has a stent or a colostomy bag or whatever else it might be.

We also make sure therapists are able to understand the categories of cancer, the treatments people may be having, and the language being used.  So if someone comes in and says ‘I’m T1N1’, then the therapists we have trained understand what that is.

Changes in the insurance industry

Having been an hotelier I understand that insurance plays a big part in the confidence a spa has in treating clients with cancer.  It has been a real problem in the past, where insurers simply wouldn’t cover therapists to treat clients with cancer. The problem was rooted in the lack of adequate training and research.

If therapists are to have confidence however, they need the support of hotel and spa owners.  That means those people need to have confidence in the training and the fact that they are covered properly by insurance.  So we worked hard to get the right medical accreditations and to really do our research, so that when we sent it to our insurer for approval, they said yes right away.  As a result we have worldwide insurance for our training.

Remembering spas are about nurturing

There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to cancer, and some of the most consistent feedback we get, is about clients feeling nurtured and relaxed after treatments.  A lot of people fall asleep and say they have slept really well for the first time in ages, allowing them to wake up in a difference headspace.

That’s part of our treatment protocol.  It’s designed to help people reach that lovely parasympathetic state where cortisol levels drop and your immune system is boosted.  Made for Life treatments have been described as being akin to meditative. We use very slow, gentle movements that allow the person having treatment to reach that space.  The difference I have seen in people walking out after a treatment is wonderful.

Product ingredients and development

Products have been another big area of consideration when treating people with cancer.  There are a lot of thoughts and theories out there about what’s suitable and safe. It’s also about what works, especially when you’re having cancer treatments which can have many side effects.  All of that means that some skincare products are either not suitable when someone has cancer, or therapists just can’t be confident that they’re safe.

Made for Life Organics products are 100% organic and lots of people use them at home after their treatments as well.  We’re working on a two year  knowledge transfer research programme with Plymouth University looking at at a number of issues including the link between the aromatherapy quality of products combined with 100% organic ingredients.  These factors make a big difference to the skin, mind and body. So the availability of products which spas can be confident are safe to use on clients with cancer, is really important.

The next stages

We’re already expanding what we do to reach the next stage.  Our training has been limited to NVW Level 3 people, but now we’ve launched manicure and pedicure training for NVQ level 2 as well.  The default position in the past has been that therapists can’t give you a treatment so have a manicure or pedicure. However, that’s extremely misguided and when training has not been received can potentially cause problems. 

This is a one day course which opens training up to salons as well as dedicated spas, to deliver manicures and pedicures safely to anyone with cancer.  We want to get as many therapists trained as possible. So we’re also talking to hairdressing salons to make sure hairdressers can do a scalp massage effectively.  The goal is accessibility and affordability for all spa and beauty treatment categories. A few years ago there was a statistic that around 96% of spas turned people away from treatments if they had cancer.  This has reduced but we are not going to stop until that ‘no’ rate turns into a 96% ‘yes’ rate.


“I’m the lady who you were so very kind to in Truro Market (you gave me a Christmas pack of your lip and hand balm) and restored my faith in the human race. My ‘hubster’, as you called him, purchased one of your Rosy Cheeks Christmas packs so that I could trial your product on my very, very sensitive skin. I was extremely sceptical, to say the least, at trying something new and was sure that it would only cause me further problems.  But you were convincing, so I gave it a try. I had experienced  over 15 years of ongoing, sore, irritated facial skin issues following oesophageal cancer, high doses of chemo, an esophagectomy and ongoing daily bucketfuls of pain killing pills and potions. I was resigned to using thick cream and greasy ointments, plus a fungicide cream on my face. It was all prescribed by my doctor who had long since run out of ideas of what to give me and I had long since stopped asking.  Nothing worked. All the potions barely held the problems at bay.  My skin was always sore and on the verge of breakouts everything and anything upset its balance. At the end of any given day my face was at best red, scaly, patchy, burning and sore. I slathered the creams on just to give myself a fighting chance of facing a new day with skin that wasn’t peeling, burnt and red. I had  numerous excuses for my skin problems, blaming anything from stress to the weather and all things in between. My diet is particularly poor, with a list of things I can’t swallow longer than War and Peace, I blamed my skin issues on that as well. Make-up was a thing of the past, reserved for high days and holidays. All that said, I am a little over a week into using your product, following your instruction to use sparingly and I can barely believe it. My face is not hot or sore and the peeling skin is now so minimal you can hardly notice it. I have not had a spot breakout or a burning rash and I have not used nor felt the need to use the heavy cream or fungicides.  I have been using your cleanse, tone and moisturise routine morning and night. If someone had told me this story I would have laughed and not believed a word of it. I’m converted and have reordered a larger pack of the face care products and a Skin Soothe Balm, and I am looking forward to ongoing results. Long may they continue.

When I first met you I said that I thought you were a lovely lady.  Now, well now, surely you must be have been my fairy godmother.  A miracle worker with a magic potion, waiting just for me in Truro market! Seriously, ‘thank you’ sounds a bit weak for how I feel about the results. I’m so very glad I stopped to talk to you that day, my skin has not felt this calm in a very long time.  I love the feel of the product, the smell of it and how it soaks into my skin without leaving my face feeling greasy. The natural, organic ingredients make it even more special.”

Heather, from Truro

More posts similar to this one

If you like this post, here are some similar ones that you might be interested in:

Making changes in the spa industry is now a multi award-winning spa booking agency and business, but that isn’t what we’re most proud of.  Our motivation is about providing the best experiences for spa goers, and also making sure everyone feels welcome and able to access the spa industry. Here are some of the ways we have been working to make wellbeing more accessible and even more enjoyable.

Read full post