Oncology Massage

Kathy Doerfer, BSN, LMT

Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist
Zero Balancing, Oncology Massage

Nurturing Touch for Challenging TimeS

What is Oncology Massage?

Oncology massage is the adaptation of massage to safely nurture the body, mind and spirit of anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Oncology massage therapists assess the current health status of their clients and modify their sessions to accommodate the changes that often accompany cancer and its treatment.

Adjustments may be made in the pacing of the massage, the amount of pressure that is used and the stroke direction. At times, specific areas of the body may be approached with only gentle touch to prevent complications or injury to delicate tissues that have been compromised during cancer treatment.

In oncology massage, modifications are made to provide safe nurturing touch...

*Before, during or after chemotherapy and/or radiation

*Before and after surgery

*When the lymphatic system is compromised due to the radiation or removal of lymph nodes or when lymphedema is present

*When the immune system is compromised

*During periods of fatigue

*When peripheral neuropathy has caused numbness or pain in the hands or feet

*For those with low platelets or RBCs

*When bone pain or bone metastases is present

*When ports or PICC lines are present

*For those who have had cancer treatment at any time in their lives

A thorough health history is taken and care is coordinated with the clients’ oncology treatment team whenever possible.

The Benefits of Oncology Massage

The nurturing touch of massage can be an oasis, a welcome respite in the midst of the turmoil of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. Oncology massage is oriented to provide comfort. It can also address specific side effects of cancer treatment and strengthen and support vital organs, immune function, the nervous system and psychological and emotional well-being.

Clinical research shows that massage can improve some of the symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatment. The most commonly reported benefits of massage for people living with cancer are...

Reduced pain and fatigue
Reduced anxiety and depression
Improved quality of sleep
Decreased nausea
Decreased numbness in hands and feet
Easing of feelings of isolation
Enhanced body image
Enhanced sense of overall well-being

The aim of oncology massage is to support the whole person during and after cancer treatment.

Care for the Caregiver

Cancer affects not only the person who has received the diagnosis but also those who care about and for them. Massage can be a powerful ally to help cope with the emotional and often physical strain of caring for a loved one who is dealing with cancer.

My Approach to Massage and Bodywork

With an awareness of and deep respect for the essential wholeness of each person that I work with, my focus is to simultaneously, through touch, address the physical structure and the energetic body. The aim is to help people move closer to an experience of balance, ease and connection with their most strong, steady and stable selves.

Zero Balancing (ZB), holistic massage, craniosacral therapy and acupressure are the principle modalities that I have integrated into my practice. ZB utilizes joint traction and applied pressure to areas of need to create still points around which the body and mind can organize and balance. Long flowing strokes, deep pressure or gliding pressure to areas of increased tension, rocking of the spine and passive joint mobilization are potent bodywork tools that are used to address pain and promote relaxation. Cranio-sacral therapy involves the gentle holding of the bones of the cranium and lower spine to invoke a profound calm that nurtures and restores at the deepest levels of the nervous system. The use of acupressure supports and strengthens the vital organ systems and the whole body.

Knowledge and experience in multiple modalities from Eastern and Western perspectives allows me to work with precision and depth to help people find relief from musculoskeletal tension and pain, headaches, anxiety, depression, grief, chronic pain and the effects of cancer and its treatment.

In my practice I have experience working with people in all phases of the health continuum, from the physically robust to the stressed and frazzled to the medically frail. I believe that skilled and loving touch can be a powerful tool for anyone seeking to find greater ease and comfort in their body at any stage in life or state of health.

I have been in practice as a massage and bodywork therapist since 1985 and hold a State of Wisconsin license (#2510-146). In addition I am a hospice volunteer and a member of the Society for Oncology Massage.
In 1980 I received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Rush University in Chicago. 

My Oncology Massage education was initiated with Oncology Massage Therapy; Caring for Clients with Cancer, a four day intensive course covering the essentials of massage care for people in any stage of the cancer journey. Tracy Walton, a respected researcher, author and pioneer in the field of oncology massage taught this class. (tracywalton.com) Additionally, I completed the courses, Understanding and Supporting Energy Depletion with Eastern Bodywork, and Oncology Massage I and II; Blending East with West. Isabel Adkins taught these courses. She is a lead teacher and author and has integrated an Eastern bodywork perspective into the study and practice of oncology massage. (OncologyMassageMatters.com) 

My initial training in bodywork was at the Chicago National College of Naprapathy. Naprapathy is a structural form using gentle rhythmic pressure to restore integrity and function to the spinal column. I went on to receive Zero Balancing certification and have continued to study various forms of structural and energetic bodywork including Healing Touch, Reiki, craniosacral therapy and acupressure. 

The study and practice of oncology massage has brought me full circle, beginning with my initial impulse to provide comfort and healing as a nurse within the Western medical model of health care. My study and career as a massage therapist and bodyworker has and continues to fulfill my desire to explore and experience a holistic approach to healing. Providing massage to people who have cancer is giving me the opportunity to learn about this complex disease and its treatment and to integrate the perspectives of modern and traditional healing systems. 

All illness awakens us to the preciousness of each human life and this is especially true of cancer. I consider it a privilege and an honor to do the work that I do and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to provide care and comfort to those whose lives are touched by cancer.

And the hands go and go:

The sacred surfaces are smoothed.   –Pablo Neruda

For questions or to schedule an appointment call 608-637-7600 ext 24 or email kathy.doerfer@viroquahealingarts.com

Intake Form
Release Form
Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM.org)

Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer by Gayle McDonald