Having first become aware of the issue in 2010 when a customer called her from her spa break, Abi said: “[the customer] turned up for her treatment on the Sunday morning, and the therapist looked at her consultation form, saw she had ticked the box and turned to her and said ‘I’m really sorry love, I can’t touch you with a bargepole’. Within the next few weeks I started to have conversations with what I considered to be my most trusted spas and said ‘I can’t not have an option for these people.’”
The incident lead to the formation of Recovery Retreats, spa days and breaks for anyone with or recovering from cancer, which apply a more personalised approach away from the standardised consultation form processes. They also ensure safe treatments by specially trained therapists where necessary.
The initiative is an industry first, and since then Abi has also teamed up with other industry leaders looking to make a change – both in the form of spas, product lines and individuals. In particular, she has worked closely with Michelle Hammond, Founder of the Spa Business School, in a bid to support education to make all therapists in the UK cancer aware, as well as forming a bond with Jennifer Young, who created a product line specifically for anyone undergoing cancer treatment.
As reported by the Daily Mail, the problem of turning people away from spa treatments because of a history of cancer, is one that’s historic and hinges on outdated training practices while some blame the parameters of their insurance policies. The problem stems from a misconception that a treatment such as a massage could worsen a patient’s condition. However, as Kefah Mokbel, director of breast surgery at the London Breast Institute, comments in the Daily Mail, there is ‘no evidence’ to back this stance, ’it is very much [a] sort of junk science, very unscientific.’
This year Abi has also been speaking closely with Julie Bach, founder of the Wellness for Cancer movement. Understanding that anyone in less than perfect health needs to have their treatments approached with care and due diligence, Bach coined the term ‘cancer aware’ believing the right approach is about being aware of the client needs, understanding the cancer journey, the psychological and the social as well as the physical, but not about providing a cancer specific service. She told Spabreaks.com: “It’s [about] being aware of cancer. This isn’t about disease, this is about wellness – supporting clients at whatever stage of wellness they might be at.”
With Recovery Retreats now available at an increasing number of venues across the UK, and with Wellness for Cancer services stretching into 30 countries and billed for over 60 countries, maybe even 80, this year through their partnership with Biologique Recherche, there is still much work to be done, but change is happening thanks to the unrelenting work of people within the spa industry. It is about empowering spas and therapists to properly vet their products, to have the ability to adapt any treatment on the menu for the person looking for a treatment.
As Bach says, “When we talk to therapists we’re helping them meet someone where they are on their wellness journey, because ultimately we need to acknowledge that in the spa industry we can’t only be wellness for well people.”