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90% of spas and resorts won’t give massages and facials to people touched by cancer

(Photo by Toa Heftiba, unsplash)

Let’s say you want to go to a resort or hotel spa to relax, get a massage, maybe a facial, do some yoga. But you have cancer. Or you have had cancer in the past couple years.

“What we found is 90%, unfortunately, of spas worldwide still turn away people who’ve been touched by cancer,” said Julie Bach, executive director of the nonprofit Wellness for Cancer.

Bach learned this fact in the early days of starting her nonprofit. Its purpose, at the time, was to give spa gift cards to people with cancer. But she learned that people weren’t always able to redeem. So 14 years ago, she shifted her work. Wellness for Cancer now travels the world, 40 countries so far, training resort and hotel spa staff on the proper way to care for people with cancer.

“What we see is that travel heals,” Bach told me, on the phone from Mexico where she was teaching. “We are preparing the resorts to understand that there just might be some adjustments, or not, that people need to have. But they should have access to all of the facilities at a resort. Let’s face it, someone doesn’t necessarily want to take meditation or yoga class or have a massage at a cancer center. We create these beautiful sanctuaries in spas. So it’s just a matter of helping people understand, at spas, that individual clients aren’t coming because they have cancer. They’re coming for the same reason that every other person is coming.”

Bach says research shows that people touched by cancer want facials and massages for the same reasons as anyone else: to sleep better, for aches and pains and for stress reduction. They don’t need drastically different care and it’s not medical care. Practitioners just need to be aware that bodies and skin might have changed if someone has gotten surgery or radiation and know how to work with that.

But many resorts and hotels are afraid of lawsuits.

“The way it typically happens is it’s during the consultation where an individual might reveal that they’ve been touched by cancer. So then the therapist doesn’t really know what to do, especially if they’re not trained. In some countries, like the UK, as soon as you find out somebody’s had cancer in the last two years, you have to stop the treatment immediately. So we’ve really worked hard and trained about 40 spas in the UK and worked with insurance providers.”

Science says massage and touch is good medicine for people going through cancer. It’s often called oncology massage but Bach wants to create a separation between medical care and wellness.

“Because you’re a person first. So we don’t want it to be a special thing, a separate thing. This person has some unique requirements, the same thing as gluten free, the same thing as vegetarian.”

If you’ve been touched by cancer and you want to find a spa that will serve you, Bach is working on a database. But until then:

“Just email me, is the best way at the moment. Or they can just contact their local spa, or the destination they want to go to, and ask if they’ve been trained.”

If you’re a masseuse or an aesthetician who’s interested in training, Wellness For Cancer offers an online accredited course. Click here to connect.

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