My Experience of How Massage Extended the Life and Quality of Life of a Cancer Patient

Updated on June 23, 2017
Lori Dudley profile image

I am a massage therapist. This is the story of one of clients, who was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer.

Ellyn

Ellyn was a beautiful lady who came to see me once a month for a massage. She and her husband owned a business in our town and she liked to treat herself once a month to relax and unwind. Ellyn always called me "Cookie," a term of endearment she used as we had gotten to know each other over several months.

One day Ellyn came to her appointment as usual and told me she had been diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer. When she lay on my table, I could see the protrusion in her stomach. I was sad, but she had a good outlook. I asked her if she was given a time frame, She told me she didn't believe in time frames. I loved her more with that statement.

With her diagnosis came relieving herself of her duties at work at the business she shared with her husband, and her decision to come to me not once a month, but once a week. And not just for an hour, but for an hour and a half. Ellyn was completely determined to take hold of this monster by the horns and her attitude completely defined her.

Mixing Chemo & Radiation with Massage

As time went on, we figured out a good schedule for Ellyn. She had her treatments on Fridays, and the few days following her treatments made her feel less than functional. She felt nauseous, tired, and sometimes she was in pain. Thursday was her best day, since it was the day before her treatments, and by then she was feeling good.

So Thursdays were her days with me, and always at 12:30. She had a port put in and she was happy to know that I could still massage around it. She wasn't the least bit reluctant in my presence which made me happy. She wasn't afraid to tell me how she felt, or embarrassed by any issues with her body.

No matter how she felt on any given day, she was always in the most uplifted spirit. If she didn't accept the card she was dealt, you would never know it. In fact, she was the one who would tell me to stop worrying about her and to face each day as it comes. She was ridiculously positive and if I learned anything from her it was to "just keep swimming!" Oh, wait, no, that was Dory... from Ellyn, I learned not to sweat the small stuff, to make friends with your enemies, and to be as kind as you can to everyone you meet because you don't know what they are dealing with in their lives. To look at Ellyn, you would never know she was a business owner, a massage junkie, or that she was slowly dying of lymphoma.

Ellyn was 58 years young when she first started coming in for massage. She knew it was a healthy way to treat her body and it kept her focused. She was 59 when she was diagnosed with her cancer—and as I later found out, she was told she would probably not see her 60th birthday.

This young lady looked and acted like she was 40. She was beautiful. She had bright, smiling eyes, a cheerful personality and she looked like something out of a beauty magazine. She had nothing but good things and kind words to say about everyone she talked about. She loved her husband, she adored her granddaughter, and she had many friends who she liked to spend time with.

Choose your weapon!

If you have been diagnosed with Lymphoma, what was your approach?

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The chemical structure of ibrutinib (1-[(3R)-3-[4-amino-3-(4-phenoxyphenyl)pyrazolo[3, 4-d]pyrimidin-1-yl]piperidin-1-yl]prop-2-en-1-one) | Source

Time went on!

Little did I know that Ellyn had a time frame of about 6 months from the time she was diagnosed. She never answered my question about prognosis, and I never pressed the issue. However, I did my research and her time span was not a long one. She was determined to really live until she died.

She did not have a "woe is me" attitude or lay around and wait until this disease took her. She went out to lunch, she went shopping, she visited friends and family, she loved her husband, she kept a beautiful house, she cooked, she did it all. She was living the life she was given to the fullest.

More than 6 months had passed since her diagnosis, and instead of dreading her loss of hair, she was having the time of her life wearing new wigs! She was really rocking her different looks, and it was giving her a huge confidence boost!

What is Lymphoma?

Tables are turning...

On one particular Thursday, I was at work and anxiously awaiting my Ellyn. I so enjoyed our 90 minutes together. As I mentioned, she came to me every Thursday, and each week I got a full report of the weeks' activities she and her husband shared. I got to meet her husband one day when we ran into each other at our local farmer's market. She was such a healthy, organic eater. She loved to cook and she was good at it. She frequented an Indian market local to us and raved over their diet and food choices and lack of disease because they took such good care of their bodies.

As 12:30 came and went, I began to wonder if she had forgotten our appointment. It was not like her to be late at all, and I am hoping she was visiting her husband for lunch and just lost track of time. I allowed 15 minutes to pass before I decided to call her. When I did, she sounded completely distant and apologetic for missing her appointment. She was not feeling well and her medication puts her into a groggy state. She did not think to have her husband call to postpone her appointment. I told her that I completely understood and if she would like, I could always come to her when she was feeling up to it so that she didn't have to travel to me. This was the beginning of a few missed appointments and it was evident that her disease was getting the better of her.

The beginning of the end

At this point, we were making no more appointments with Ellyn at the spa. She has been in a weakened state the last few weeks, and I was awaiting an opportunity to come make her comfortable.

One day, I got a phone call from Ellyn's husband, who was very upset and crying. He told me that Ellyn was not well and that she had been taken to a hospice where she would most likely be spending her last week. I assured him that I was readily available and that I would head right over to do whatever she needed me to do. At this point I truly loved Ellyn and I would do anything I could to make her as comfortable as I possible.

I headed to the hospice. It was a beautiful facility. The staff was nice and the building was clean and bright. As I headed towards Ellyn's room, I was nervous and prayerful. I walked in to a room full of people. I smiled and paused before going in, as I did not want to intrude on her company. Ellyn looked over at me and smiled and said: "It's my Cookie!"

You wouldn't believe what happened next. Someone looked up at me, smiled, and asked if I was Lori, the massage therapist Ellyn spoke so highly of. Completely humbled, I smiled and said that I was indeed her massage therapist. Within minutes I was sitting among Ellyn's family, who quickly made me comfortable and welcomed me into the group.

Almost immediately I found my way over to her, hugs and kisses passed, and I got right to work. Hands and arms were massaged, legs and feet were massaged. I met friends, cousins, her mother (which was a BIG deal, as she was in her 80s, lived in Arizona, and was not sure if she would be able to make it out to see her daughter), and her sister who, to this day, winds up being a favorite of mine and a friend I know I will have for life.

Over the next few weeks, I returned to the hospice facility frequently and spent a lot of time with Ellyn. Typically when one goes into hospice care, the time frame is very short. A few days, or maybe a week or so. Some days I would meet different friends or loved ones, but the two constants on a daily basis were Ellyn's husband and sister. Someone was always in the room with her. While she slept, one would go grab a bite while the other stayed in the room, or we would order delivery so that someone was always with her. Some days she was alert and witty, and others she was groggy and not such a great hostess. A day never went by when I didn't massage her.

I had the pleasure of meeting her doctor one night while I was there, and he asked me if I knew what I was doing. I wasn't sure what he meant; however, he acknowledged that for as long as she had been in his care, especially since she'd arrived at the hospice, she had always had good color, her skin was warm, and her vitals were good. He believed this was due to the lymphatic drainage she had been receiving as a result of my massage.

I told him I couldn't take any credit for that, since Ellyn had been the one who had made the decision to quit her job and start coming to me once a week. He told me that the fact that I was continuing to come to her and make her comfortable was making all the difference in the world. That made me happy because the longer we could keep Ellyn comfortably here, the better.

Lymphatic drainage massage keeps toxins at bay by flushing them out of the system. When you have radiation, it kills your lymph nodes, which is the system that is responsible for draining toxins. Ellyn had excellent color, her skin was warm, and that is indicative of good circulation. I told her doctor I wanted to keep her around as long as possible. Having this kind of massage every day is crucial to cellular health and will keep the patient comfortable. When you receive a massage, your muscles give off endorphins, which I like to call your body's internal happy drug. It's the feeling of euphoria you get when something feels good.

The unexpected birthday

It was now December, and Ellyn had been in her bed at the hospice now since last month. Let me repeat that: ELLYN HAS BEEN IN HER BED AT THE HOSPICE NOW SINCE LAST MONTH. This, in itself, is an absolute miracle. The staff was getting upset with me because they aren't used to getting used to their patients. Ellyn is a pretty likeable gal and they were really getting to know her—her wit, her compassion, her love, and they knew what was eventually going to happen. Hospice staff isn't used to getting used to their patients. And they were getting very used to Ellyn and her family. And me.

Ellyn was not supposed to see her 60th birthday. Ellyn not only saw her 60th birthday, but she saw the days afterwards. She beat the odds. She had been given lymphatic drainage massages, she had gone through chemo and radiation, and she had an IV drip with pain medication to keep her comfortable.

One particular night in December, Ellyn was losing her color. The days that led up to this night were magnificent. She was alert, happy, functional, and full of life. This night, however, was different. Before I left for what would be my last night there, I said a prayer that she would go peacefully.

I thanked God for allowing her to be well enough so that her elderly mother could come out one last time to see her. When her mother left, she knew it was the last time she would ever see her. She passed not too long after I met her. I gave her sister a hug and told her to please let me know, no matter what time it was, if anything happened to Ellyn. I told her I would always be there for her and her family. I had grown to love them.

The 2 am text

I had gone to bed that night just a tad uncomfy. On that date, in December 2009, I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter, Ayva. Ayva was a regular topic of conversation between Ellyn and me. I had settled in around 11pm or so and had drifted off to sleep after some soft chatter with my husband.

In what seemed like only minutes later, my cell phone alerted me to an incoming text. I must not have been in a very deep sleep because I sat up as best I could with a basketball belly and grabbed my phone. The text was from Ellyn's sister: "Our dear Ellyn has passed on to the next realm, as peaceful as can be."

I was heartbroken even though I knew it was going to happen. I was angry that the Cancer Monster took her, but it didn't take her without the most excellent fight. She beat so many odds and lived way passed her given prognosis.

I tell every single client of mine who has dealt with cancer the story of Ellyn and how lymphatic drainage massage extended her life and made her comfortable during an uncomfortable time. To be a part of someone's well-being is truly an honor. You have heard me say that time and again. It is the basis of my work and the motto for my business. I urge you to find a lymph specialist should you or your loved one get a cancer diagnosis. It's not a cure, but it could extend your life and keep you comfortable during the time you have left.

© 2016 Lori Dudley

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      Barbara 

      2 months ago

      I was diagnose in 2014, nothing done but watch and blood work and cat scan every 6 months. I though this is easy until this last June I thought I had the flu but couldn't get over it. went emergency had essays and build up of fluid between abdominal wall and chest wall. they took out a litter of pinkish yellow stuff and I could breath better and every 2 weeks i go back and have it done for a total of 3 times. what causes the?

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