Snapshots of an OMT - Perfect Honesty

Wed - 14/12/16

By Tania Shaw, Executive Manager, Oncology Massage Limited

As an Oncology Massage Therapist, I have the privilege of being present in someone else’s vulnerability, in the rawness of the moment when the realisation of current reality impacts a frail body, the perfect honesty of our exchange in the time we share… and where soft hands, a quiet voice and human presence can make the difference between agitation and distress, and being able to breathe more comfortably for a little while. I’d like to share with you two snapshots of my work, from the very beginning to now…


I gently held her hand and cradled her elbow, looking into her eyes as I slowly breathed in unison with her.

“I… can’t… breathe… I… can’t… breathe…!” she gasped.

Watch me as I take air in, and breathe out. Feel my hand holding yours and look at me looking at you.

Breathe with me. Let’s breathe together. In and out. Slowly and gently. The mask you’re wearing is helping you breathe, giving you oxygen with which to nourish your lungs and your body, and enabling you to hold your baby boy… even if it is for just a moment right now. Rest, breathe and hold him again in a little while.

I massage her legs using the long sweeps of effleurage; my pressure as if I was soothing my new grandson’s tiny head, and assured. I know how to do this. I know how to provide comfort touch in a skilled, caring and safe way because that’s my life’s work and I love it. What I don’t know is how to respond to this dying woman when she says “I’m going to beat this!”, and I don’t know how to answer her when later she softly sobs, “What will happen to my baby?”

I do know how to be with her, and at the time that seems to be enough for her.

Later I will cry. Perfect honesty.


I received a text from a grateful husband saying his wife had slept well, and had even eaten with some appetite after my last visit to her in hospital.

We have hope, he said.


There are moments of great laughs too. Belly wobblers, mascara streaking tears and aching sides moments in fact. “I was always told I didn’t have a musical bone in my body. I wish they could hear the melody I’m playing now!” amidst roars of laughter, raspberries and toot toots. Everyone loves a good fart joke, especially when you’re in a massage room behind a closed door, and there’s nowhere to go.

Every day is a new challenge, a new opportunity for creating memories and a new chance at making the relationships we have count.

My clients have been my greatest teachers. Their ability to “get real” with life, to see the high road and to bring forth long-held wishes and dreams touches my soul so deeply I find myself stopping to embrace the moment. Often. Perfect honesty.

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