The healing touch offered by a post-surgical scar massage

Post-surgery scar massage is a remedial technique that I developed with a colleague when based in the oncology unit at London Bridge Hospital.

Over the years we had seen extreme vulnerability in patients who had surgery as part of their medical treatment for cancer. The scars left by surgery were both physical and psychological. Most patients were very nervous of their surgical scar: they would not want to touch the scar for fear of making it worse or somehow damaging themselves through their actions. That these fears had little or no basis in fact did nothing to lessen them. Through massage we felt we could help them overcome these fears.

Find out more about the physical and psychological benefits of massage for those who have had surgery for cancer.

My main experience was with women patients and one other aspect of the massage is to reorient women towards their own body and femininity. Massage can offer a loving, caring and educated touch that can be very stabilising. It is a touch that is rewarding to receive.

A cancer diagnosis can leave the patient feeling dehumanised. All of a sudden you are no longer wholly yourself. There is a sense that a bit of yourself that is somehow alien and has malfunctioned in a most horrific and frightening way. The medical profession do not sometimes help to address this: patients can quickly feel out of control as they are put on a medical conveyer belt of meetings, appointments, scans, blood tests, pills, chemotherapy, biopsies and examinations.

And then there is the sense of disassociation that is caused by the reaction of family and friends to your diagnosis. The patient stresses over who to tell, who not to, how to tell them and how to ‘hide’ it. Then, of course, there is the need to deal with all those people’s reactions. Cancer still is scary to most and often the person hearing the news will descend into a panicked state of their own whilst forgetting about the person who has just bravely told them the news.

So what’s involved?

  • The stress of major surgery
  • A loss of a sense of self
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Disassociation

In a word patients’ experience of a cancer diagnosis can be traumatic. And there are the scars of surgery too. With all of this going on, it is clearly a stressful bewildering time.

Post-surgery scar massage is about reacquainting the patient with their body and their scars. It is also about relieving the stress they experience through the nurturing, aromatic massage.

The treatment does focus on the area that has been incised, but it goes much deeper than that. It takes into account the woman as a whole, her feelings and her relationship to her body and sense of self. After a thorough consultation, together we come up with an individual plan to address her needs.

The ultimate aim is to reconnect the person with themselves. To do this I use gentle, specialised massage with essential oils and specific muscular manipulation. The ultimate effect is to offer a sanctuary from the hurly burly that is the world of post-diagnosis cancer.

By Amanda Berlyn. She practices at Shine, Newington Green.