The Healing Touch

TLC, INC: Patti Rice of The Spa Los Gatos says cancer patients need special nurturing.

TLC, INC: Patti Rice of The Spa Los Gatos says cancer patients need special nurturing.

Cancer patients find massage tailored to their needs at The Spa Los Gatos

I used to have a book of old folk remedies from the piney woods of East Texas. Among the old-fashioned prescriptions for poultices and salves was one that stood out for its poetry and simplicity: To cure a woman with a headache, have a man she loves put his hand on her head.

The healing power of touch is something we intuitively understand, and science seems to be catching on. Studies have shown that hugs reduce blood pressure, while massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In cancer patients, massage has also been linked to better immune system health and lower levels of depression.

When Patti Rice, owner of The Spa Los Gatos, noticed a number of clients booking appointments and then, on the table, explaining to their massage therapists that they were undergoing cancer treatment, it seemed only natural to try to meet what was obviously becoming a need.

“Statistics say one in three people are going to experience cancer,” says Rice. “Those numbers flabbergast me. I’ve had so many people I know going through it, and I’d wonder, ‘What can I do for them?’ Then it dawned on me: Bring them in.

“They’re never touched, other than in a very medical way, and if you can just make them feel human and let them be touched in a non-medical way—not just being poked and prodded—that’s an important thing.”

Society of Healers

The field of oncology massage is a relatively new one, and conclusive findings on how therapeutic touch affects cancer remain few and far between. But the Society for Oncology Massage, begun in 2007, now has almost 400 members nationwide, and a casual search online for the terms “cancer” and “massage” yield loads of results.

Rice says she started out by offering “Oncology Massage” but found that clients seemed to prefer booking regular treatments.

“What I’ve learned is when people are going through cancer, they don’t want [their massage] to be about the disease, they want it to be about them. Even calling it ‘oncology massage’ takes away from that.”

What is now called the Nurturing Massage at The Spa Los Gatos is in many ways a standard massage treatment. The main difference is that the practitioners know what questions to ask, what to look for and how to work around medical devices and conditions. Does the client have a mediport? Has there been surgery? Is the client very sensitive to temperature changes or to scents?

Rice has located an online training program that can certify her entire staff—not just the massage therapists but the estheticians, too.

“A lot of the chemo and radiation can be very drying, so we educate clients about what products they’re putting on their face,” says Rice. “It’s also not a good time to be doing laser treatments or botox injections. But good skin care, good facial massage, can help. It’s good to have an alternative.”

Nurturing massage isn’t just for cancer patients. It’s for anyone with special health needs. “We’re seeing more and more senior patients,” says Rice. “They’re a little more fragile than other people.”

For the cancer patients, Rice is planning to work with Cancer CAREpoint, a nonprofit affiliated with Good Samaritan Hospital, to donate nurturing massage treatments in the Silicon Valley area. “If I were a doctor I would donate my time, but I don’t have that set of skills,” she says. “This way I can give back to the community and start supporting those who can’t afford nurturing massage.”

To learn more about Nurturing Massage, visit or call (408) 354-5901.

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