How are you? - a poem by massage practitioner, Angharad
“You are not a spring chicken“ my daughter said. I had to chuckle, but I knew it was said from a place of love and concern.
I was staying with her overnight as her apartment was nearer the race start. Snow had coincided with the London Half Marathon and she was concerned for my safety as well as running 21.1k. I chuckled because the race was just part of my overall training for an Ironman - a gift to myself for my 60th birthday. (My Welsh friend said that at 60 he was given a bus pass!)
My goal at this stage in my life was to tick two boxes:
- Do an Ironman
- Change career path
I has accidentally fallen into the world of triathlon in my fifties and the friends around me would ask me to massage their ‘niggles’ as it always seemed to help. I wasn’t trained and knew I would need to train professionally if I was going to take this further. It always felt good to help and make a difference.
After achieving the Ironman and researching massage courses, I started my training to become a massage practitioner with anatomy, physiology and pathology (Level IV). It was harder than the Ironman!
People came out of the woodwork to volunteer to be massaged, and before I knew it I had completed more hours than I had needed for my practical assessment. However, one of my cases stood head and shoulders amongst the rest, a quiet private gentleman in his eighties with cancer.
I was touched, as I saw for myself how massage helped him each time on so many levels. I had the privilege of being able to work with him over three sessions as one of my work studies, but I knew at once that my path was set. On qualifying, I started to search for a Postgraduate Diploma course in oncology massage and signed up with Jennifer Young.
It was during a tutorial, as part of the Jennifer Young Postgraduate Diploma in oncology, that the question was posed:
“What shouldn’t you ask someone with cancer coming to you for treatment?"
I pondered the question, and then assembled an assumed list of answers, but I knew deep down that assuming was a poor substitute. So I decided to approach my three case studies who had kindly volunteered to be massaged as part of the diploma course, and put it to them. Whilst hoping I was not hitting a raw spot in asking the question, I pondered on what their responses might be.
I didn’t have long to wait as their considered responses returned one by one, approaching the question in their own honest way. It should not come as any surprise that some questions that had been put to them in the past were felt more acutely than others, after all we are all unique. But there was an unwelcome theme that started with: “How are you...feeling?, How are you ...doing.....today?“.
Their feedback also showed that direct questions in the main were not welcome, often being associated with their medical team, who were always asking direct questions. What was welcome however were boring, ordinary, normal conversational low level human being enquires. “How did you find parking?“ suggested one, there were others.
As a direct response to the second lockdown, a series of webinars were offered by Jennifer Young, chaired by Jennifer herself.
During this series the question arose yet again. Not from the chair this time, but naturally from therapists attending the webinars - some of whom were also on their own journey with cancer. Seemingly, the question of 'how are you?' is never far away.
For me, the question was much closer to home this time. I was struggling with coming to terms with the passing of my brother to Covid in February of this year. It took me two months to figure out how to answer the question when it was posed to me, by way of the poem I penned below.
I learnt something else too. In life, whilst we hope it is kind to all, each and every one is touched in some way at some time by something unwelcome, and that whilst the question of 'how are you?' is in its self simple, the answer seldom is.
For me, by simply realising and acknowledging that I didn’t know, or didn’t need to know, the answer, I unexpectedly gave myself a gift of kindness, that set me free.
How are you?
How are you? someone asks
Stopping me in my tracks
It’s deep, need to think
Hard to answer, I’m out of sync
Too much noise
Too much fogginess
I’m different day to day
Not sure what to say
Don‘t know, wants to trip off the tongue
Is it important to find out?
I turn the question quietly on it’s head
Can’t I just be instead?
Close your eyes, take a moment
Breath in, and breath out
Bring calmness to attention
And quietness to retention
Know in the moment
You don’t have to answer
Acknowledge the care
They just want to be there.
Angharad learnt to welcome cancer patients and adapt her language, consultation process and treatment appropriately, to ensure clients are comfortable and able to reap the full benefits of an oncology massage treatment. As Angharad saw for herself when welcoming the quiet, private gentlemen with cancer, these benefits range from reduced anxiety to improved quality of life.