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How to help someone who has been diagnosed with cancer

understanding your clients wellness & wellbeing Aug 02, 2021
therapist training, cancer patient

As a therapist, how can we help someone who has been diagnosed with cancer? It can seem like such a big ask and a daunting prospect, but as therapists we have the capacity to provide a type of support that no one else can, and that’s incredibly special.

With the right training, we know that oncology touch treatments can provide positive mental and physical support for cancer patients from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. Here are few of the ways in which we can provide support.

Provide physical and mental relief

With specialist training in oncology massage and other touch treatments, such as reflexology and facials,  therapists are in a unique position to provide nurturing, caring and positive touch experiences that have a powerful physical and mental impact – especially when someone is being faced with so many painful and invasive medical procedures. As we have mentioned before, studies show that proven benefits include reduced anxiety, stress, depression, general fatigue, reduced motivation fatigue, and emotional fatigue. They can also lead to reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure, as well as a decrease in physical discomfort and mood disturbance.

Oncology touch treatments promote better sleep

Sleep is often a problem following a cancer diagnosis or during cancer treatment. It might be because of worry, discomfort, pain or a combination of factors. We know through research that oncology touch treatments have the capacity to improve sleep. In particular, the Sleep Rituals routine provides a sleep encouraging, full body treatment.  Therapist Anna Garnett, who completed the Jennifer Young postgraduate diplomas in Balanced Body and Mind, Oncology Massage, Lifting and Rejuvenating Facial and Hand, Nail and Foot Treatments, said:

“one lady said she slept for the first time [after her treatment] in a long while without being in pain.”

Stay informed about cancer and cancer treatments

Being able to understand what a client is telling you about their treatment, their diagnosis, and their experiences with cancer can be extremely reassuring for both you and them. It’s important to remember that they may not feel able to talk to many other people about how they feel – friends won’t understand the terminology and they might not want to ‘burden’ family members or feel as though every conversation at home needs to be about cancer. You don’t have to become an expert, and you don’t need to start talking like a doctor – no one wants that! However, with basic understanding of the therapies available and the biology of cancer itself, you can listen and communicate compassionately and in a way that shows you have some understanding of what your client might be going through. As part of The Jennifer Young Training, we include foundation knowledge in both cancer and cancer treatments to help you with this.

Make your client feel safe

A sense of safety comes from showing that you know what you’re doing and that’s all in the training. As mentioned, having an understanding about cancer and cancer treatment is important, and so is reassurance that you’re appropriately trained. In addition to helping you communicate effectively, it will help to reassure clients that you’re aren’t daunted by a stoma, a mastectomy scar or a picc line, and that you’re able to adapt around them during a treatment. Especially in today’s climate, making it clear that you’re also aware of risk management and infection control is essential – you don’t want to make it feel like a sanitorium, but talking through some of your protocols, and having visual cues to show that everything is clean, and tidy will help. From the consultation form to talking through the treatment process all adds to a client’s sense of security.

Talk with empathy

We have mentioned being able to talk with an understanding of the physical experiences someone might be going through following cancer diagnosis, but so much of what we do as therapists is about the emotional side of things. Many of us worry about offending a client by talking about cancer or asking questions, and in reality, there’s no one way to do it right. However, creating a spa environment that allows people to talk if they want to, makes an important difference to their experience. Recognise that your client might want to express things they can’t say to friends and family, but equally, they might not want to talk about cancer all the time. Allow it to be a topic they can talk about but that they don’t have to talk about, understanding that it does not define who they are.

Take responsibility for the energy you bring into the room

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is famous for her TedTalk My Stroke of Insight, in which she talks about her recovery from a stroke. One of the things she is passionate about is how the ‘energy’ an individual brings into a space impacts the other person and their healing process.

No doubt, as a nurturing person, you are already aware of this, and probably already do it to some extent. It’s not about neglecting your own needs, giving too much of yourself or coming in with a false sense of happiness. It’s simply about coming into a room with compassion and treating your client as an individual. To some extent this is about self-care as a therapist and remembering to take time to yourself so that you’re in a good place when you walk into that treatment room!

Here’s a little snippet of Dr. Bolte Taylor’s talk to explain better! 

Build a network

Again, this is as important for supporting you as it is for supporting your clients to the best of your ability. Having a network other therapists and specialists to talk to, to keep your knowledge up to date, find support and refer clients to regarding treatments or services that you don’t offer (like skincare products or nutrition advice for example), will provide enormous value to your clients, you and your practice.

Jennifer Young Training is not simply about providing treatment protocols to treat cancer patients. It also equips therapists to feel confident and competent in the treatment room, meaning you have the support you need in your job and provide the best care possible for your clients. Click here to find out more about our postgraduate diplomas.


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