For massage therapists wanting to build a private practice without being in a spotlight, Joan Rau is a great role model.
Joan is an oncology massage therapist (OMT) with a busy practice of 19 years near Atlanta. She is a quiet, thoughtful networker with a strong oncology massage base, and her practice is her livelihood. We know Joan because she assists in our foundational OMT course in her occasional spare time. Her students love her warmth and wry sense of humor, and we love her, too!
Joan uses several strategies to promote her work in her community. She spreads oncology massage therapy literature liberally around town, in hospitals and cancer resource centers, with “Compliments of Joan Rau” on each piece. She volunteers at hospital health fairs, sponsors riders in cancer fundraisers, and forms collegial relationships with physicians.
She also volunteers for the Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM) Outreach Committee, which has given her access to outreach strategies that she might not have come up with on her own.
Most recently, Joan reached out to oncology nurse navigators, who can be powerful allies in spreading the word about oncology massage.
What is an Oncology Nurse Navigator?
Oncology nurse navigators help patients understand the disease process, explain test results, and guide them in making informed decisions about their cancer treatment. Navigators fill an evolving role on the landscape of cancer care, and their roles are subject to changing expectations and mandates.
As OMTs, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the nurse navigator role. If you are curious about how nurse navigators guide patients, view this short, moving video from the National Cancer Institute, or the Oncology Nursing Society’s description of the history, role, and core competencies of nurse navigators.
In some ways, oncology massage therapists may identify with the experience of a developing role. Oncology massage is just beginning to be recognized as a specialty with tangible benefits to patients. We, too, find ourselves on changing landscapes in health care, and even within the massage profession.
For these and many other reasons, it makes sense for nurse navigators and oncology massage therapists to connect.
How to Reach a Lot of People in a Little Time
By attending a large gathering, such as a conference, a massage therapist can reach a lot of people at once. Recently, Joan represented S4OM at a nurse navigator conference in Atlanta. She had a booth with abundant OMT information and resources, an eye-catching sign, the requisite bowl of treats, and plenty of visitors.
The nurse navigators she met embraced the need for oncology massage.
Many had not heard of oncology massage before, but were impressed by the additional training, clinical thinking, and approaches used by OMTs. They were excited to know about an organization devoted to oncology massage, and about the standards of care set forth by the Society.
Oncology massage standards of care were of particular interest to her visitors. Several navigators told Joan they had not previously recommended massage for their oncology patients, as they had stories of massage from untrained therapists that caused them concern. What an opportunity for us to educate! Joan did so.
“Back in the Day…”
In turn, nurse navigators told Joan many stories of how nurses used to massage patients at bedtime, and what a difference it made for the well-being of patients and the peace of the evening shift. When Joan showed them a partial list of hospitals currently utilizing massage therapy (oncology or otherwise), they were excited and wanted to know how to include oncology massage services in their respective hospitals.
Joan was inspired, too, by the conference presentations, but was especially moved by the nurse navigators she met. She left the conference feeling the full potential for collaboration with massage therapy.
Where Do We Fit In?
Joan believes that nurse navigators are a great gateway for us to make ourselves known to patients, physicians, and others in cancer care. Navigators help patients through the often complicated path of cancer treatment and post-treatment, and one of their primary responsibilities is to provide resources for care. We as OMTs need to be one of those resources.
As a resource, we get a chance to educate others about the value of oncology massage and how it might benefit patients during treatment and post-treatment. Maybe we dispel some myths. Maybe a nurse navigator comes to our table to try it out.
Hopefully, we help create real massage therapy champions. And the end result will be an increasing number of oncology patients with access to massage therapy.
We Need Each Other
The triad of patient-nurse navigator-oncology massage therapist is a natural one for many reasons, primarily because we need each other. Patients need nurse navigators to help them along their sometimes overwhelming, sometimes confusing journey. And we as massage therapists see the potential for massage to support patients during an important time.
As Joan can attest, this is exactly the message that we want to send and keep spreading, getting the word out not only to patients during treatment, but also patients who are post-treatment, at end of life, and during diagnosis. All could benefit from our services.