A diagnosis does not define.

October is breast cancer awareness month. When was the last time you checked your breasts? And I mean really checked them! I had no family history of it so in my case, it was very rarely. Then one morning in the shower I brushed over a spot and thought “hmm- that doesn’t feel right”. I kept and eye on it for a couple of months and when it didn’t go away I saw my GP. Fast forward 10 days, and after a barrage of tests I was in hospital of having a partial mastectomy.

I was “lucky”. I had the “good type” that didn’t require chemo, and after intensive radiation I just need to take medication and be monitored. I expected some psychological fall out from this whole situation, what I didn’t expect is the feeling of disconnect I now have from my body. The changes to my body impacted my self-esteem, body image, and overall confidence. I feel let down by my body, I feel it betrayed me and the fading scars and radiation tattoos are a daily reminder of that.   Even though time has past, I still feel that I have the label as the “breast cancer” patient. Well meaning friends still do that head tilt when they ask “how are you?”. I’m happy to talk about anything but the cancer.

It’s been nearly 2 years since I first felt that lump, and I still cannot bring myself to have a massage.  I don’t want to have to explain my radiation tattoos to a therapist I don’t want them to see the scars in my armpit where the lymph nodes were removed, and I don’t want to have to explain my medication regime to them.  Most of all, I don’t want them to panic and tell me that they can’t massage me because they aren’t oncology trained.  To me that would just reinforce how my body has betrayed me. 

What can you do?

This is the type of experience that 1 in 7 women and 1 in 500 men in Australia will experience in their lifetime, so it’s a fair bet that at least one of your client’s will have received a diagnosis. Here is my advice to you :

For your clients

  • Learn the common types of breast cancer and the current types of treatment so if a client tells you about their diagnosis, you don’t panic, and you can be educated enough to ask the right questions. 
  • Meet the client at whatever point they are at.  If they don’t want to lie prone – fine – adapt your treatment.  If they have nerve damage on their upper arm or restriction from scaring, be aware of it and if they choose to leave their bra on during treatment work around it. 
  • Know when to refer on.  If a client is seeking treatment for post-surgical complications like lymphoedema or are undergoing active chemotherapy, you will need to refer to someone with oncology training.  Know who the people are that offer this in your area so you can refer to them, so the client feels supported not rejected. 
  • Trust your own skills and don’t not treat a client just because they have had a diagnosis. Many will seek treatment for conditions completely unrelated to the breast cancer or surgery and in most cases, massage will be perfectly fine.  Feel honoured that they have trusted you with their body and be sensitive to the feelings they may have. 
  • Be aware that a reoccurrence is always on your clients mind. Every year they have to go through the revolving door of specialists and testing and worst of all – waiting for results to see if it has come back. Sometimes they may just need quiet, safe space where they aren’t be poked, prodded and having parts of their body squished. Make your treatment room that safe space.

For yourself

  • Check your boobs regularly.  I had no family history of breast cancer, and my lump was not detected in my screening mammogram. I detected it myself.  I have no doubt that my massage palpation skills helped me. Trust your instincts and get it checked straight away. 
  • Don’t delay your mammograms because you are “too busy”. Many did over COVID. At my last scan the radiologist told me that their number of detections have increased dramatically as has the stage when they are being detected.

Life now

While breast cancer may forever be a part of my history, it doesn’t have to define my future. There is life after breast cancer. The experience has lead me to try and “not sweat the small stuff”. By sharing this story I hope one of you may take action on a lump you’re not sure of, and, as a therapist, I hope you may become a little more informed and confident in treating clients who are past the active treatment phase of their journey.

Resources

There are great resources out there available for Breast Cancer, including the McGrath Foundation and the Breast Cancer Network Australia. If you have a chance, take the time to do some research and educate yourself on the services that are available for yourself or your clients if needed and ensure that you are educated enough to help your clients to reconnect when they are ready. 

Images courtesy of Pixaby

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Comments

  1. Jennifer Della Torre
    19/10/2023 - 10:56 am

    An excellent Blog very informative with very important insights.
    Thank you.

  2. Jennifer Della Torre
    19/10/2023 - 11:01 am

    A very informative Blog With important insights.
    Thank you.

  3. Lia Scomazzon
    19/10/2023 - 12:29 pm

    Thank you for providing such a valuable resource, with this comprehenive summary of what is essential information for us as both massage therapists and members of the community. You have provided a great service by sharing your lived experience so we can benefit from it

  4. phillip boelen
    19/10/2023 - 1:48 pm

    Breast cancer and cancers of any type is a serious issue.

    I come from a lymphodema therapist.

    I am seriously surprised the lack of understanding how Manual lymphatic drainge, MLD can help people pre/post surgury.

    cancer and other surgeries may may require lymph node to be removed. If 40-50% are remover then the chance of lymphodema is great. MLD is a great therapy to help the body to cope.

    WHY is MLD not promoted to help the body?

  5. Thanks for sharing your story to help give RMT’s a better understanding of what our clients may be experiencing.

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