New York Times columnist, cancer survivor and health advocate Suleika Jaouad will share her inspirational story during the AMTA 2015 National Convention Closing Session Cancer + Massage—The Power of Touch.
See how massage therapy had a positive impact on her cancer journey, and how she maintains her health and wellness.
What role does massage therapy play in your health and wellness regimen?
Suleika: I can count on one hand the number of massages I had gotten in my life before I was diagnosed with cancer. Massages were a luxury—something I was gifted for my birthday or as a graduation present. "Lavish," "indulgent" and "pampered" were the words that came to mind when I thought of the experience.
My perception of massage therapy changed dramatically when I began cancer treatment in the summer of 2011. I was a scared 22-year-old girl lying in isolation in a hospital room. The intensive chemotherapy treatments I was undergoing had caused painful sores in my mouth and throat making it impossible to eat, drink, talk or do much of anything. The nausea I experienced was so intense that I remember pretending to be a statue, lying as flat and still as possible with the hope of calming my roiling stomach.
One afternoon an older woman wearing scrubs and a kind smile knocked on my hospital room door and asked if she could come in. She introduced herself as a massage therapist and asked if I might be interested in getting a massage. My reaction was one of confusion: why did the hospital have a massage therapist on the staff? After all, this was a cancer ward not a spa. I had spent so many weeks trying to dissociate myself from my body and the pain, nausea and fatigue it was home to. The idea of letting a stranger give me a massage when I felt so terrible didn't exactly sound appealing at first but I was desperate for relief, so I agreed to try it.
The massage therapist showed me acupressure points on my wrist to help lessen the nausea. She taught me a few self-massage techniques I could use to ease the pain in my joints and limbs. And then she set to work gently and carefully kneading my shoulders and backs. I could feel the weeks of stress and anxiety and fear evaporate from body. For the first time since my diagnosis I felt a sense of peace and calm wash over me. Massage therapy became not just a highlight but a necessity in the ongoing years of cancer treatment that followed. It’s been a lesson in the power of touch.
What are some ways you maintain your health and wellness?
Suleika: My dog Oscar! I adopted him from an animal shelter six months after I underwent a harrowing (but ultimately life-saving) bone marrow transplant. The task of caring for him and walking him every day was no small challenge. For the first time since my diagnosis, I had to be accountable to someone other than myself. After years of sitting in the patient’s chair, it was empowering to be a caregiver for a change. I gained my strength and endurance back from those long walks with Oscar around the lower east side of Manhattan where we live.
I’ve noticed a direct correlation between how active I’m being and how much energy I have. Aside from my walks with Oscar, I try and stay fit with aerial yoga, pilates and light weight training. If I’m traveling or if I don’t have access to a gym or a yoga studio I like to do The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.
Read the full interivew in Massage Therapy Journal (mtj) >>
Join Suleika at AMTA National Convention
Wednesday, August 19: 11am-6pm
Thursday, August 20: 7am-6:30pm
Friday, August 21: 7am-7:30pm
Saturday, August 22: 7am-12:30pm