Beneath the Surface – Finding the Right Path

Most people, when thinking about massage, visualize the spa experience – with relaxing back rubs, hot stones or maybe even a foot scrub – and, while all that could be accurate, my particular path has shown me that it can also be much more than that. 

When I first began pursuing a career as a massage therapist, upon graduating from my initial schooling, I began a search for quality continuing education courses to further my development as a therapist. Frankly, it was a big task. How was I, a brand new massage therapist, going to decipher which courses offered in-depth training and which ones did not? It was then that I discovered my passion for oncology massage. 

In my research, I had found numerous classes promising to teach me how to accept cancer patients as clients, but none of them seemed right to me. How could an eight hour course cover so much? Weren’t there too many variables for a one day course? Thankfully, one course stood out. It was an in-depth intro to oncology massage taught at a hospital and offered through the Society for Oncology Massage ( 

Running for three days, and packed with information, upon completion I would be trained to what is referred to as the “do no harm” level – in other words, capable of performing massage for cancer patients without endangering them. Throughout the course, each student learned about the types of cancer and the effects of treatment, how to apply that information during initial intake, and how to safely perform oncology massage sessions avoiding any adverse side effects to individual clients. 

Shortly after the course, I was contacted by a charitable breast cancer organization to see if I was amenable to becoming a preferred provider of oncology massage for their group. Of course I was! I accepted their offer right away. 

Soon after becoming a practicing oncology massage therapist, I saw that some of my clients began presenting with secondary lymphedema – that is, swelling caused by treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. While I knew how to avoid exacerbating their condition, I still wanted to search for more comprehensive training to move beyond the “do no harm” level. I wanted to know how to benefit my clients, to aid them as they continued with cancer treatments. 

As before, there was a plethora of single day courses available – mostly centered on manual lymph drainage – but I came to the conclusion that a single day course in that discipline simply wasn’t enough for those clients with impaired lymphatic systems. Eventually I found a certification course in complete decongestive therapy which, in addition to manual lymph drainage, also included compression therapy, exercise, and skin care. Upon completion, I had earned my CLT (certified lymphatic therapist) credential, enabling me to better benefit my clients. 

The funny part is, some time later, I was going through some old documents from my initial massage therapy school and I came across my final exam. The last question on the exam was for the school administrators, wanting to know how we planned on utilizing massage after we were licensed. I was surprised to see that, even then, I’d written “Oncology Massage”. Bear in mind, there was only a single page in our text books about that discipline, and I don’t think we talked about it for more than a day. In retrospect, I’d have to say that my eventual journey toward Oncology Massage was my true calling. 

Today, I am proud to be the regional representative for the Society for Oncology Massage in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Group meetings are commencing in 2017, so If you’re a S4OM member give a call today at (610) 662-7209 for additional information. We’re creating a local community!