You would think there is no better time for some pampering and time out than when you are being treated for or have recently conquered that all-pervading societal melanoma … cancer … and you would be right.
Unfortunately, due to a few complications and a whole catalogue of fears that the illness invokes, this doesn’t always prove to be the case – something that Spabreaks.com is eager to change.
So what exactly is the problem? Well, some of it is fact, and some of it is fear. The fact of the matter is that there are facilities that you are best to avoid; when you are undergoing chemotherapy in particular your immune system is compromised so using swimming pools and Jacuzzis is not advised in case of infection.
When it comes to treatments there is also a weighty fear-factor, particularly in the realms of massage and aromatherapy. It is widely believed that massage stimulating the lymphatic system might spread cancer around the body. According to Dr Peter Mackereth – the Clinical Lead for Complementary Therapies at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust Manchester, however, this is a theory that doesn’t stand up: “If you walk on the beach or towel dry after a bath it will exert similar pressure on your body as gentle massage. You want the lymphatic system to work! Movement helps people to feel better and feeling good helps the immune system to produce natural killer cells.”
Supporting his assessment, Mackereth refers to Dr Tiffany Field’s research into massage in cancer patients at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami: “Dr Field has done a series of studies into cancer and immunity and concludes that massage is both safe and helps the immune system.”
Working through the Christie Foundation to train spa therapists at venues around the country to feel comfortable providing massage to cancer patients, Mackereth is keen to point out that he advocates gentle pressure rather than deep tissue massages – not because they can have an effect on cancer itself, but for the client’s own comfort: “Often patients have lost a lot of body mass, particularly at advanced stages of cancer, and they have no fat deposits, so deep tissue massage can be very uncomfortable. Chemotherapy can also affect clotting leaving you susceptible to bruising.”
Inextricably linked to massage is the minefield that is aromatherapy with certain oils believed to be adversely stimulating, and while Mackereth advocates the use of complementary therapies wholeheartedly, that isn’t to say therapists don’t need to take extra precautions: “We use 1% dilutions and usually use aroma sticks rather than oils – again, the important thing is to be gentle. We are doing more research into the interaction between essential oils and infection, but what really is important is that products are stored correctly and that they are not shared between patients – therapists should use single dispensers.”
While clients often find themselves being refused spa treatments up to two years after they have finished treatment for cancer however, Mackereth points out that at this stage you are no longer immunocompromised, and complementary therapies can be an important part of recovery and keeping well in the long term: “We talk a lot about resilience – building people’s resources for long term health. Controlling cortisol (stress hormone) levels is important as that can have a big impact on your resilience, and even when people have an ongoing illness evidence suggests that life expectancy can be increased by reducing stress levels, which spas and spa treatments can actively contribute to.”
Of course aside from the recovery side of cancer, Mackereth also points out that being aware of our own bodies is important in the diagnosis of cancer as well: “One of the challenges in our society is that a lot of people are diagnosed at quite a late stage, but I have known many therapists who have helped with an early diagnosis by finding lumps and suggesting clients have them checked just in case – I have seen a number of patients who came to us via complementary therapists.”
Ultimately Mackereth’s message is clear, when clients are suffering from cancer, therapists do have to take more precautions than usual – and key amongst them is simply to be gentle. His tried, tested and informed opinion is that anyone with cancer can enjoy complementary therapies, massage included: “My feeling is that by refusing to treat people with cancer it is discrimination – I am a nurse by trade and have 35 therapists in my team. We gave around 10,500 treatments last year and not one had a negative outcome – quite the opposite. It’s not alternative, it’s complementary to traditional treatment methods and therapists are proving time and again that they can help people through their treatment and beyond.”
Spabreaks.com offers specialised spa days and breaks for anyone who is currently or has recently been treated for cancer with our Recovery Retreats. For more information visit Spabreaks.com or contact the team on: 0800 043 6600.
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