More Than a Client

By Michelle McKerron

Are you like me, having read how the research supports that massage is a great thing for cancer patients? I have been forwarding info sheets from AMT for years to my client base, knowing that cancer is rife in my community, hoping to help in some way. Perhaps you have had the opportunity to follow up in an effective way in your work?

The opportunity has come knocking for me, but in a way I have had an absolute love/hate response to.

When I did my training in the late 90s, I had a posse of people I practiced my early techniques on. I’d set up my rickety portable table in living rooms, get my towels and oil out of my backpack, and knead away like my life depended on it (I was 18/19 at the time). I don’t know if it was my clients or me, but the treatments were rarely zen like moments of quiet reflection, instead chatty and comfortable, usually with a laugh or two at life.

Steven – a barrister and father of two small boys – was among my massage guinea pigs. He was intelligent, and frightened the life out of me with the way he questioned my terminology and my techniques. Steven was the kind of person who forced me to question the things I did, but who also very much appreciated what I did for him. His style of ‘being a client’ improved me as a therapist and for that I am very grateful.

I look at Steven’s chart now, meticulously kept over the last 20 plus years. There is a whiplash, a quad injury, a lot of relaxation massages, weight loss and gain, even a pre-event massage! I remember conversations we had about adipose tissue where we laughed and at the same time sombrely adjusted our views of what would become the norm for some. He responded well to remedial massage techniques and never gave up asking me why I was doing certain things, always keeping me on my toes, and always OK with the answers I gave. I reckon he had about 50 treatments over 20 years. He watched me grow as a therapist.

The last 2 visits I had with my client have been drastically different. It’s heavy-hearted and very, very light massage. In December 2018, Steven was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. The treatment needed to be aggressive to fight it – surgery and 80% of the tumour removed within a week of finding it.

I found myself at the hospital, doing my best to give my client (I am just going to say it, my friend) some relief through massage. Steven had no feeling on his left side, but was grateful that I picked up his arm and paid it careful attention. Sheer blissful release as I oh-so-lightly touched his neck. He had a newly acquired symptom of a lack of short term memory (or maybe it was just the honesty of a man very ill and in shock), which meant that I had never been so fervently complimented on my treatment. This at a time when I felt like I was doing less than I had ever done before in any session. What an absolute pleasure and privilege to be at his bedside offering caring touch to a man who, within a week of diagnosis, was being prodded and poked and rolled and toileted and washed in a manner totally outside of his control. And how invaluable to be a familiar face that he could trust in this daunting, miserable, uncharted situation.

Then he faced:

  • Multiple surgeries to keep his body working
  • DVT
  • A stent
  • A heartbreaking MRI.

Within 4 weeks, the cancer showed its true intentions and its ferocity. Now my friend is at home.

Tomorrow I visit Steven for the first time in 3 weeks. I am sad. I am a bit nervous. I am happy to be able to see him again. Every moment is precious. I am genuinely looking forward to aiding him in his discomfort, like every other client that walks in my clinic door of their own accord but at the same time, 100 times more.

This is where massage as my occupation leaves money and red tape behind and shines. Steven doesn’t have long on this earth and, who knows, maybe I don’t either. I have learnt a powerful lesson that I have something very real and comforting to offer, one which almost makes me want to chuck in regular massage. That’s my grief talking, isn’t it? Most of us need to be in a financially OK place to be available to provide this service to the weakest in our circles. Our regular clients are valuable in their own way (see the circle of life above) but it is a lesson that I hope will shape my work ethic in the future, no matter who I am treating.

The history between a client and therapist, and the consequent deep feelings of mutual respect, can make a massage so important.

My client – my friend – Steven, passed on Sunday, peacefully and surrounded by family.


If you need to talk about any of the topics raised in this article, Lifeline is available 24/7 – phone 13 11 14 or find a counsellor via the resources listed on The Art of the Counselling Referral article. The following state based grief counselling organisations may also be helpful:

About the Author

Michelle is a wife, mum of four, massage therapist and manager of a small clinic in Sydney’s south. She doesn’t get bored often. Michelle enjoys watching the AMT membership engage, become mobilised and empowered by the communication capabilities found in social media pages, like this blog. Michelle is also the Chairperson of AMT.

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More Than A Massage
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  1. A beautiful post Michelle, so eloquently shared. We need to hear more of these experiences, because massage is so much more.
    Thank you.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss Michelle.
    I’ve been in a similar situation though I didn’t have the opportunity to help my client through the really tough part and was unfortunately told about his passing in a fairly insensitive manner…. that was probably 10 years ago and on occasion I still think of him. I was however lucky enough to regularly massage his wife which was a lovely experience (to be part of her life as she forged on ahead without her life partner). It’s connections like these that make our work such a treat even when it’s so very sad at times.

  3. Trisha Feutrill
    13/02/2019 - 1:14 pm

    Touch is a wonderful thing to give

  4. A wonderful post. Michelle.
    I’ve been struggling lately with the death of one of my first clients. He had Post Polio Syndrome and always said I was the only person who didn’t hurt him, who treated his nervous system and him with respect. He was in pain every day of his life and contracted Polio at age 5. He was such a fighter and on days when I felt my own chronic pain was too much, I would think of him and get on with it. I miss him.

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