Chemo patients at Zimmer Center benefit from massage and tai chi

November 28, 2006
Outpatients receiving chemotherapy at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Zimmer Cancer Center have some new tools to help combat the effects of their treatment. Therapists began offering massage several months ago, and tai chi was added about a month ago.

Leaders in the Healing Arts Network at New Hanover Regional said they are always thinking of ways to enhance recovery and help patients relax.

“We’ve been offering massage, music therapy, yoga and other modalities to inpatients for a long time,” said Maureen Dugan, director of the Healing Arts Network. “I attended a conference that explained the benefits of massage, tai chi and other complementary therapies for people receiving chemotherapy and brought the idea back to my co-workers. A vision began to form and we started to work toward it.”

Marilyn Potter, a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist, goes into the chemotherapy room two or three times a week to provide a mini-massage to those patients who want one. She massages patients in their chairs while they receive chemo treatments.

“The patient chooses the type of massage - hands, feet, lower legs, neck, shoulders or back,” she said. “I usually work on each patient about 20 minutes. And the response has been great.”

A few weeks ago, Marty Gregory introduced tai chi to Zimmer patients by doing demonstrations in the lobby. Now she goes in once a week to work individually with patients in the chemo room.

“Tai chi is actually a protective martial art similar to soft kung fu,” she said. The slow, focused movement provides physical exercise and relaxation. “Its effects are very deep,” she said.

Along with tai chi, Gregory teaches qi gong, which is breathing exercises that enhance relaxation.

She acknowledges that this treatment is not for everyone.

“Some people just want to sit or read while getting their chemo, but others really respond to the music and the movements of the hands,” she said. “I’ve had some wonderful responses.”

In addition to overall relaxation, both massage and tai chi provide benefits for the specific needs of patients receiving chemo. Tai chi is great for balance and strengthening the back and legs, which enhances support for the body and serves as some protection against injury. Massage boosts the immune system, which is often lowered in chemo patients. It also releases neurochemicals that help provide pain relief and other chemicals that are mood elevators.

The chemo nurses said the patients look forward to it.
“I think it’s been a very positive experience in a not so positive situation,” said Helen Walton, a Zimmer Center nurse.

To learn more about Healing Arts options for patients, call Michele Erich at 815.5870.