PTSD from the War on Cancer?

I recently attended an amazing mentorship class with Char Sundust. During the class we watched a lecture by Edward Tick, PhD. His work focuses on healing veterans with PTSD. During this talk I was overwhelmed by the tragedy of the mistreatment given to our veterans, once they return from service. Edward’s work is inspirational and has informed PTSD treatment in in all arenas, across the globe. His lecture made me consider my clients recovering from medical trauma in a new light.

What is medical trauma? An injury sustained from medical treatment. It could be due to accident or negligence, but it is often an intended outcome of the proper course of treatment. I think of some of my cancer clients going through chemotherapy and radiation as a purposeful medical trauma. They are simply doing their duty to beat the cancer, no matter the cost. Sometimes the treatment is straight forward, with minimal tissue casualties, and sometimes the mind and the body are wounded beyond repair. 

It suddenly and profoundly hit me that all the words that were being used in the lecture to discuss warfare were also used in cancer treatment. The cells are “targets.” The patients are “survivors” who are “fighting” cancer. The doctors are producing natural “killer” cells. But if we are fighting a “War on Cancer” where is the battleground? Who are the soldiers?

The PATIENTS are the battleground.
The CARE GIVERS are the soldiers.

When fighting a war, there will be destruction, there will be wounded, and there will be the subsequent nightmares of those who survive. How are we taking care of our veterans from this War on Cancer? We aren’t. There is virtually no rehabilitation for cancer patients, family members, or medical practitioners after the battle is over. Yes, there is frequent screening after someone goes into remission from cancer, but where is the recovery from injuries sustained in service? It seems patients are left with a hearty “you’re lucky to be alive!” and sent home to be grateful. And what about the ones that don’t make it? One-third of cancer patients don’t live more than five years after their diagnosis. (NIH Cancer Fact Sheet)

Our soldiers in this “fight”, the nurses and doctors at our cancer hospitals, lose one in three of their battles. What do you think morale is like in the barracks with those odds? It takes incredible dedication to inflict pain on people over and over again as your occupation, and still keep your heart in the game. Many health care practitioners disassociate and distance themselves from the experience to save their spirits. You know who they are as soon as they walk into your exam room. If we thought for a moment about the sorrow of all those losses and casualties that led this person to becoming that “jerk doctor” or “rude nurse”, we’d likely thank them for their service….

What about the families of the survivors? They are left to fend for themselves, rebuilding and searching for reparations that will likely never come. But now their loved ones are missing limbs, or organs and can’t do everything they could before. Insurance benefits have been “maxed” and the medical bills are piling up on the kitchen table. Family leave and all the vacations days have been used up at work, as well as the tolerance for any more missed work. No “R & R” happening there.

But support is available. Enter bodywork: the USO of the health care services. All of these fighters need healing touch once they return from war. Backs are sore from laying on gurneys, necks are tight from bending over patients, heads are aching from the worry and sleepless nights. Massage is a way to honor the struggles our bodies have been through, while rehabilitating in a supportive environment.

It only takes a few days of continuing education to offer massage therapy safely to cancer patients in recovery. Our next oncology massage and hospice massage classes are happening soon. Meg Robsahm is a gifted teacher and this class offers a safe space, not only to discuss these controversial topics, but to learn to be present with your clients as they find their own healing through this difficult time. 

Do your part to support these troops! Click here to join us, or spread the word by sharing this message. I look forward to continuing this discussion about how this “War on Cancer” paradigm might shift, both during classes at the New School of Bodywork Advancement, as well as through case reports from integrative medicine clients with whom I have been privileged to work. Please sign up for the Massage Your Practice newsletter to stay in the loop.