The Healing Power of Touch
Joannie McCutcheon has a deep appreciation for the healing power of touch. In 2005, the 66-year-old was living in Amsterdam and working at a multinational company as an IT specialist when she was diagnosed with two brain tumours. One was a benign meningioma and the other a potentially fatal oligodendroglioma. She named them Melanie and Ollie.
McCutcheon had surgery to remove part of the cancerous tumour, which saved her life but didn’t leave her completely cancer-free. A couple years later, she moved back home to Scotland. Then, in 2015, she became a volunteer with the Iris Cancer Partnership, a charity that offers free massages by specially trained therapists to cancer patients. McCutcheon provides IT support to the organization and, in return, receives a massage every three weeks from therapist and now friend Angela Secretan.
“I go in feeling exhausted and headachy,” says McCutcheon. “She’ll massage my head or my back, and she does reflexology on my feet. She seems to know instinctively what I need, and together we decide what is best for me at that moment. I come out feeling everything is okay again.” McCutcheon says the regular massages, as well as the new companionship the therapy has brought her, have kept her alive.
In Canada, programs like Touch for Cancer in Balgonie, Sask., perform a function similar to that of Iris’s providing, among other things, gentle touch to cancer patients in order to reduce swelling and pain in the hands and feet.
According to current research, these programs make sense. Manuel Arroyo-Morales, a professor of physiotherapy at the University of Granada in Spain, leads studies looking into the effect of hands on the human body—particularly the impact of massage therapies on cancer patients. When touch is consensual and comes from a person with whom the patient is comfortable, says Arroyo-Morales, it helps to reduce pain and fatigue, strengthens the immune system and lowers anxiety. His team’s findings are reinforced by an increasing number of scientists who’ve come to the same conclusion: physical contact can greatly improve our emotional and physical health.
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