Fighting cancer with massage |

Fighting cancer with massage

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/David De Lossy
Getty Images | Photodisc

Nobody enjoys hearing bad news, especially when that bad news is a cancer diagnosis.

For Christina Danyluk, that bad news came twice; once in the form of lymphoma 22 years ago, the second as thyroid cancer six-and-a-half years ago.

Listening to Danyluk speak, one would never be able to tell that she is a cancer survivor. Her voice rings with enthusiasm and positivity, never revealing the devastation that cancer has brought to her life in the past. She is candid about her ordeal and how it changed her life.

“During my second cancer I was getting massages as part of my overall wellness and decided to go into massage school soon after that,” Danyluk said.

Once her cancer was in remission, Danyluk completed the massage therapy program at The Holistic Learning Center in Evergreen; she was a certified massage therapist with a mission. She wanted to help others with cancer by using massage treatments as a way to improve their overall health since it had worked so well for her.

Danyluk, 40, started her own practice, Restorative Bodyworks in Edwards, in 2004. Her primary focus is oncology massage, although she still takes clients who don’t have cancer as well.

She also volunteers at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards, where she offers complimentary massages to cancer patients.

Anyone who’s had a massage ” whether personal or professional ” can espouse the benefits of getting their muscles rubbed and squeezed after a day on the slopes, but what are the benefits to those suffering from cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society’s website,, “Studies of massages for cancer patients suggest massage can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue in some. Many health care professionals recognize massage as a useful, non-invasive addition to standard medical treatment.”

In other words, massage won’t cure cancer, but it can greatly help alleviate the symptoms.

Oncology massage differs from standard massage techniques in several ways, most notably the amount of pressure that can be used and the areas of the body that can be massaged.

“For most people it’s generally no problem, but every so often their would be a person that it would not be recommended for,” said Christine Hasselbach, a physical therapist at Howard Head Sports Medicine Center who works closely with patients at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center.

Hasselbach stresses the importance of cancer patients getting approval from their doctor before having any massage work done to avoid any further complications or pain.

She specializes in lymphedema massage, a very gentle massage technique that helps lower the swelling of lymphatic fluid after surgery or if the lymph nodes (a key component of the immune system) are not functioning properly. Often, after having cancer-infected lymph nodes removed to avoid further spread of the disease, Hasselbach’s patients will receive this treatment.

Oftentimes, the swelling recedes in the affected areas, and people’s mobility increases.

Not only does this give Hasselbach’s patients hope, it lets her know she’s making a difference.

Danyluk also notes some of the most common differences between regular and oncology massage.

“The pressure is probably the single most important difference in my opinion,” Danyluk said of oncology massage techniques. “Their bodies are dealing with healing on a whole bunch of other levels.”

For this reason Danyluk ” who specializes in full-body oncology massage ” won’t give her clients with cancer deep-tissue massage simply because she doesn’t want to aggravate or worsen their pain.

“When in doubt, a really, really light and gentle loving touch is generally never a problem,” Danyluk said.

It’s also important for massage therapists to take such things as tumor location, chemotherapy ports and radiation therapy points into consideration when treating a patient, Danyluk said. If something doesn’t feel good during a session, Danyluk said that all a patient must do is tell her, and she will fix it.

“They’re basically the boss during the session. It’s not according to my plan, it’s according to what’s working for them at the time,” Danyluk said.

There seems to be a thin fog of mystery and myth surrounding oncology massage, one which scientific research is quickly beginning to dispel.

“They used to think, years ago, that giving massage to people that have cancer ” that the cancer can metastasize throughout the body, and there really is no evidence of that,” said Larisa Ulrich, a massage therapist at Allegria Spa in Beaver Creek who just got certified for lymphedema therapy in November.

Allegria Spa offers lymphatic drainage therapy as one of their services, and periodically they offer patients at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center free spa treatments.

Considered a very safe and valuable compliment to standard medical cancer treatments by many physicians today, oncology massage offers rewards to both the recipient and the therapist.

“I started doing massage because I want to help people, bottom line. I really love what I do. People that have cancer or have lymphedema may need some massage, and I think it’s a great tool, not just to make people feel physically better, but it’s really nice to … get massaged when you’re not feeling well no matter what,” Ulrich said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or

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