Massage Therapist Pursues Special Training to Serve Patients, Survivors
When Cheri Leonard was celebrating her 13th wedding anniversary with her husband, they joked that something bad would happen that year because of the superstitious number. “I said, ‘I’m going to get breast cancer,’” she recalled. “We were just joking around. I had my mammogram coming up, so that’s probably why it was in my head. But it was just a joke.”
Unfortunately, it’s exactly what happened. In June 2010, Leonard was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, an early stage breast cancer, caught on her routine mammogram. “It was devastating,” Leonard said. “I’m a solo practitioner, so I worried about my business, or if I was even going to be able to go back to work. I love what I do and I’m really passionate about it.”
Leonard, owner of The Massage Spot in Appleton, underwent two lumpectomies before opting for a double mastectomy with reconstruction in the summer of June 2010. She received care from ThedaCare surgeons who worked with her to provide the best treatment options for her.
“I felt very well taken care of throughout the whole thing,” Leonard says. “When I had questions, they answered them. They were very good to me and gave me the time I needed to think. I got the best care that I possibly could have.”
One problem Leonard encountered during her treatment would lead her to provide a solution for other patients. Recovery from mastectomies can be tough, with patients having to manage drains, pain from multiple surgeries and having to sleep in uncomfortable positions for months at a time. “My back started to hurt,” Leonard recalls. “I couldn’t find anybody to give me a massage, even my friends. We were told in school not to touch anybody with cancer unless you know what you’re doing.”
The reasons include the possible danger of exacerbating chemotherapy sickness by increasing circulation, or of transferring chemotherapy drugs to a practitioner’s hands. There also is a potential for injuring a patient suffering from radiation burns or by aggravating the side effects of treatment, such as weakened bones or pain.
At the same time, a massage can be exactly what a cancer patient needs during a difficult time.
Leonard knew exactly what she wanted to do when she was able to return to work. After an intensive yearlong course, Leonard was certified in Mastectomy and Oncology Massage in 2012 and now provides a way for cancer patients to receive gentle, comforting and specialized massage services.
“I experienced this myself — people don’t know how to hug you anymore,” Leonard says. “They don’t want to hurt you. You lose that personal touch from your friends and family, and you start becoming deprived of human touch.”
Leonard offered massage sessions during the National Cancer Survivors Day celebration in June at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center. The cancer center offers a full range of advanced treatment services, including group and private chemotherapy infusion, radiation treatment, health and wellness services, and built-in monitors to connect with off-site care providers and family.