Cancer Patients Receive Massage From NJ Massage School Students

6 Months ago, Barbara Williams from The (Bergen County) Record, was kind enough to write about what the students at The Institute for Therapeutic Massage (ITM) are doing in our Oncology Massage Certification Program that runs at both our Haskell / Wanaque, NJ (Passaic County) school location as well as our Red Bank, NJ (Monmouth County) school location. This was more than an article about the program, but more so a treatise regarding how this type of therapy is utilized in the hospital / medical massage based setting. Barbara and her staff photographer, Leslie Barbaro went to Holy Name Hospital to observe our students working on patients and learn more about the benefits of massage therapy as it applies to this special population. Here are a few excerpts from the article ‘Cancer Patients Get Free Massages at Holy Name Hospital’:

‘Just two decades ago, prevailing wisdom held that touching oncology patients was a no-no, for fear of hurting them. Today, people get massages as they sit in recliners receiving chemotherapy treatment. Cancer patients at Holy Name Medical Center are treated to free massages on Wednesdays by students from the Institute of Therapeutic Massage, which boasts of having the only accredited oncology massage program nationwide.

“The students are fantastic — the patients love getting the massages,” said Janice Terlizzi, the hospital’s administrative director of oncology services. “Many patients have a difficult diagnosis and it is very intense getting chemotherapy. This helps them relax.”

Students enrolled in the nine-month oncology program at the school’s main campus in Haskell / Wanaque take classes in anatomy, hospital-based massage and oncology so they can read patient charts and adapt the Swedish massage method to fit individual needs. Instead of the typical five strokes — gliding, vibration, hacking, friction and milking — students might use more compression movements, said Lisa Helbig, president of the institute.

“When someone has cancer, you might focus on the hands and feet, use slower movements, apply pressure rather than gliding,” Helbig said. “It complements treatment, makes the patient feel more relaxed — they report sleeping better, and sometimes it helps with the nausea.”

Emotional benefits – In general, massage increases circulation and promotes relaxation, providing emotional and psychological benefits. It can help alleviate stress, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, pain, fatigue and depression in cancer patients, experts say, but patients may suffer adverse effects from massages if they don’t exercise caution, said Dr. Charles Vialotti, Holy Name’s chief of radiation oncology. ‘but the massage therapy we offer is so gentle — it would be hard to find a patient that wouldn’t benefit from some form of massage.” 

Oncology Massage Certification Program student Jana Crawford O'Brien treating a patient after a radiation session at Holy Name Medical Center

Some patients do decline the offer, however, said Laura Machnik, a student at the institute, and others tell me they’re so glad to see me and want me to get started right away while they’re receiving treatment. Ten or 20 minutes can make a person’s quality of life so much better.”

Machnik is hoping to work with hospice patients once she graduates this spring. She remembers her dad battling leukemia before his death 13 years ago, when everyone was afraid to touch him because he seemed so frail. “I knew then I wanted to do something for cancer patients,” Machnik said.

The program has become so popular that the school will offer it at its Red Bank location, and the students will work with cancer patients at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune. They also work with patients at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, school officials said.

Julie Taw, Medical Director of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, expects to hire more massage therapists for its Center for Integrative Healing. She said that even with patients paying for their own massages, demand has been so high for the full-time therapist that the hospital is looking to add to the staff. “The feedback is amazing, patients are so appreciative,” Taw said. “And our physicians feel we’re a nice adjunct to the medical care.” Patients don’t always have to dig into their wallets for massages at hospitals. At times, insurance will cover the costs, said Barbara Cron, a spokeswoman for Holy Name.

“Massage therapy, when ordered by a physician and is medically necessary, is often a billable service that can be covered by insurance,” Cron said. “For Holy Name hospice patients, massage is part of the inclusive, holistic care plan, so there is no charge to those patients.”

To learn more, or read the article in its entirety, please go to this link: ITM Oncology Massage Certification Program Students At Holy Name Hospital