A belief in the therapeutic value of massage therapy for cancer patients and a collaborative community effort are two of the keys behind a massage program at Floyd Memorial Hospital  and the Cancer Center of Indiana that is setting the providers apart from other Southern Indiana hospitals and cancer centers. After starting with a 2003 community grant from River City Business and Professional Women (BPW) Links for Life that supported a day of massage therapy for breast cancer patients in the Floyd Memorial Cancer Center, the program has grown to four days a week of services for cancer patients and their immediate care givers, and led to additional massage therapy services offered through the hospital’s physical therapy department. For wellness and retention, the hospital also now offers reduced-rate massage therapy for hospital associates. “One of the hospital’s goals is to continue to grow the programs as much as possible,” says Rayna Withers, Director of Oncology at the Cancer Center.
Susan Waiz was the hospital’s first massage therapist, and she remembers how she both did and didn’t foresee the success of this program. Though she had discussed beginning massage therapy programs for patients with more than one area hospital, no firm plans had come to pass, and the day that she received a call from Floyd’s Director of Physical Therapy, it came as a surprise. By invitation, she gave a presentation to staff about research on the benefits of massage. With support from a physician who hoped to use the therapy to reduce the need for so much pain medications in some patients, Floyd’s CEO signed off the very day of her presentation and the program was soon a reality.
It Takes a Community
In-kind services from Floyd Memorial for work space, supplies, and some therapist hours not covered by grants are crucial, but the program is grant dependent.
Grants from a number of community organizations keep the program running consistently and growing. When BPW Links for Life provided that first grant for services for breast cancer patients 10 years ago, BPW member Mary Ann Schweda was key in advocating for the woman-centered offering, says Waiz, and Jerri Quillman, a vice president who went on to serve as Executive Vice President at Floyd Memorial, spearheaded it internally, telling Waiz to keep it simple and just do what she needed to do. Quillman firmly believed, “We need this in our hospital,” Waiz remembers. More recently, the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County has been a tremendous supporter of the massage program, as well as the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana.
A research grant also allowed the Floyd Memorial Cancer Center and its massage program to work this year with an Indiana University Southeast professor of nursing, a research scientist, a statistician from the University of Louisville and other physicians on a recently completed 18-month research project studying the possible benefits of massage therapy in reducing fatigue and insomnia in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. During the study, some patients received massage, while another randomized group agreed not to receive massage of any kind during the study and for three months afterward. A second component of the study included a focus on biofeedback for the patients, who received one-on-one sessions on breathing techniques to reduce stress. The results of the research are being compiled and will be presented at a national seminar in 2014.
Waiz credits Withers as an “amazingly supportive” supervisor for the program, and Mark Truman, VP of Operations for Floyd Memorial, as another key player in the expansion of services beyond the initial patient group. She says she has felt trusted to help people from the beginning, and cites working with and training practicum students from the Louisville School of Massage (LSM) as a particularly rewarding part of her duties. “They continue to be better and better every year.” Jake Kennedy, an LSM student who recently completed his volunteer placement in the massage program, says “When I first started, I was afraid I wouldn't fit in. … To my surprise, everyone welcomed me with open arms. When I was unsure of something, I would just ask anyone and they were more than willing to offer their help. The staff is like a family and I'm glad I was able to be a part of it.” The clients, says Waiz, grow very comfortable with the students during their time at the hospital and the cancer center, as well.
Sixty-plus doctors have signed standing orders for massage for their patients on the inpatient unit, says Withers. Waiz can’t wait to serve as many of those patients and their care givers as possible, helping to reduce their stress and pain levels, as her “hands keep learning” on the job.
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