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Q&A with New York Times Columnist Suleika Jaouad

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 + MassageThe 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

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"The support I’ve received at the various levels of my career has been key in helping me get to the place I am today."

Lee S., AMTA member since 1995

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