We know that mental health and physical health are inextricably linked, and in the case of cancer patients, nurturing touch therapies have the capacity to provide mental as well as physical relief during cancer treatment.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s time to acknowledge the power of touch and the important role that self-care and touch therapies, including massage, can play in the mental wellbeing of anyone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis and/or treatment.
While we know that touch therapies can provide physical relief from aches, pains and tension, touch therapies can also provide a wide range of short- and long-term mental health benefits, supporting individuals through difficult periods in their lives and beyond.
Natalie Calway, who experienced Jennifer Young oncology touch treatments and products following a melanoma diagnosis said: “I have never been one to have a regular skin care regime until I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2018. Treatment played havoc with my skin, so I started to ensure that I put my skin care high up on my list. I had found previously that some beauty salons would not allow me to have a massage as they were worried about spreading the cancer. Something my oncologist said was completely over the top and not backed by any evidence. I was free to have massages, especially as I found it helped my mental health. It's no secret on my Instagram that I suffer with terrible anxiety related to my cancer. I can't tell you how much better I feel after a massage, or if I’ve treated myself to some pampering at home. If my hair is nice and my skin feels smooth, then I feel so much better in myself. I treat myself to a massage every couple of weeks and it really helps with the chronic pain I have suffered with since my treatment started.”
Proven short-term benefits in a range of cancer patients have included reduced anxiety, stress, depression, general fatigue, reduced motivation fatigue, and emotional fatigue, reduced depression, improved sleep, reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure, as well as a decrease in physical discomfort and mood disturbance.
The study also showed reduced perception of pain, nausea, and increased relaxation after a 10-minute foot massage with pain intensity, pulse rate, and respiratory rate significantly reduced immediately post massage. At the study entry, a massage group reported higher pain intensity, which decreased by 42% (25% reduction in the control group). The effect of massage on mood disturbances was greater when treated continuously by the same therapist.
Judith Potts, who experienced the benefits of Jennifer Young oncology massage and self-care following treatment for breast cancer, said: “When treatment was finished, I discovered that friends’ general perception was ‘it is all over now - you can put it behind you and move forward’. This is not so easy. Knowing that breast cancer can re-emerge at any time, even years later, every twinge or ache brings with it the obvious question. I experienced a myriad of emotions – relief, guilt, anger, anxiety, self-blame. My consultant guided me to a breast cancer support charity, where I discovered the importance of self-care – both mental and physical – found through complementary therapies. As a health writer, I was astonished that the knock-on effect of cancer misinformation, was – and still is - preventing beneficial treatments, like oncology and post-treatment massages. Removing the ‘I am fine’ mask and allowing the therapy to massage both body and mind achieves mindfulness relaxation, which is vital - whatever the prognosis. I am eternally grateful to my surgeon and oncologist that, 13 years later, I am here to write this - but I am concerned that the true impact of a cancer diagnosis on mental health is overlooked.”
In breast cancer patients specifically, touch therapies have been shown to reduce anxiety, depressed moods and anger, increase vigour, improve quality of life, reduced pain and therefore improve mood as well as reduce stress levels.
Long-term benefits of touch therapies have been shown as reduced depression and hostility, increased urinary dopamine, serotonin values, natural killer cell number and lymphocytes in breast cancer patients, as well as reduced mood disturbances and perceived stress levels (specifically in breast cancer patients).
Sam Reynolds, who found massage to be a vital part of emotional health during her cancer journey: "After having three breast cancer diagnoses spanning 12 years, from age 26, I have come to realise that being given a breast cancer diagnosis can be less about the physical challenge and more about the emotional resilience. It becomes essential to focus on the things you can control. Having something practical to do to keep grounded and connected is like an anchor. Putting our own needs to the top of the priority list can set us up mentally, because we are proactively helping ourselves and putting things in place to support ourselves, in the way we want and need. Receiving a Jennifer Young massage as a cancer patient felt as though I was doing all of the above.”
To find an oncology touch therapy trained spa therapist or spa destination near you, you can use the Beauty Despite Cancer Spa Finder: https://www.beautydespitecancer.com/pages/spa-therapist-finder.
As the recognised expert in oncology skincare, Jennifer Young developed The Jennifer Young Training School to end discrimination against cancer patients in the spa industry, allowing cancer patients to receive touch treatments at the time when they need it the most.