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Why therapists must stay aware of advances in cancer treatments in order to support clients

business insights & tips understanding your clients May 28, 2021

As spa therapists delivering oncology touch therapies, it’s up to us to make sure we have an understanding of the medical treatments that clients are experiencing and the terminology they are faced with following a cancer diagnosis.

Our collective knowledge about cancer and the innovations around medical treatment are perpetually evolving. There is so much research in this area, and when someone experiences a cancer diagnosis, they are catapulted into a world of terminology and information they never knew existed, becoming an expert in their own right.

The importance of language and listening in cancer care

As therapists, the role we can play in providing holistic oncology touch treatments might be considered complementary, but when we do it well it can have a profound impact on an individual’s wellbeing and ability to cope. To do that, it’s important we have an understanding of the world our clients are existing in so that not only can we tailor treatments appropriately, but we can communicate in a way that makes them feel reassured and listen with empathy and support.

Awareness is something that Sue Harmsworth, founder of ESPA and the SATCC (Standards Authority for Training and Cancer Care), is passionate about. It is one of the reasons she’s such a strong advocate of therapist training in treating cancer patients. She said in a recent interview:

“Therapists need to know and understand the terminology around cancer so that they can provide comfort and not show shock. For the client, it’s so important to be asked questions, made to feel safe and to know that the therapist won’t suddenly get a surprise and react inappropriately.”

Medical advances in cancer treatment happen all the time

This year alone, and despite the impact of the pandemic, there have continued to be medical advances in cancer treatment. For example, a new £18m gene therapy centre was announced in Sheffield. The Gene Therapy Innovation and Manufacturing Centre (GTIMC) will be one of three cutting-edge hubs in the UK dedicated to advancing the training, capacity building and development of clinical development of new genetic treatments for a variety of diseases including rare cancers.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released its report last year. It details the refinements in surgical treatments for cancer to improve patient outcomes, minimise invasive surgeries and limit the associated complications. These are just a couple of examples that illustrate the pace of development in cancer care.

While we cannot hope to stay on top of it all, and neither are we expected to, having a reasonable understanding of the current landscape and how clients are experiencing it, can be instrumental in the support we provide. It can also make us feel more confident and better prepared to deliver the best care possible.

Continuing to learn and staying on top of the basics in therapist training

Earlier this year, Susie Sander, a highly qualified therapist who specialises in lymphoedema, spoke to us about the importance of keeping her knowledge of cancer, cancer treatments and therapy protocols up to date. She included the benefits of revisiting the basics of oncology massage training from time to time. Susie said:

"When someone has cancer treatment, they enter this whole new world of language and information, and when they come to you as someone who knows about oncology massage it’s important you to know what they’re talking about so they can feel confident in your capabilities […] I did the [Jennifer Young] advanced course, and then went back and did the Level One, which was a fantastic refresher. It was fascinating to learn more about things like the proton beam and immunotherapy, and it made me feel more comfortable about the specifics when it comes to the type of cancer that those treatments are used for.”

In the training that we offer, we don’t simply go through treatment protocols for treating cancer patients, we also discuss the theory and science behind them. That includes giving therapists an understanding of the biology of cancer, the science of its treatments, the biological drivers of resulting side-effects, and the protocols and products available for delivering safe and dedicated treatments to clients with and beyond cancer.

However, as with all learning, it isn’t a static thing. For employers, in a market where one in two people are expected to be touched by cancer at some point in their lives, it’s short sighted not to make sure those individuals can be appropriately supported within your establishment. For those who are self-employed, finding a community of people to communicate with, exchange thoughts with and to learn from, is vital for individual confidence as well as keeping our thinking fresh, engaged, and open-minded.

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