Massage therapist Marilyn Veselack knew only the first names of the AIDS patients she massaged weekly. For a year and a half she donated her time and skill to patients referred by St. Mary's Hospital physicians.
For the past six years Veselack has also given massages to cancer patients at St. Mary's Advanced Medicine Pavilion, 750 Wellington Ave.
Veselack was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Massage Therapy Association in March at a meeting in Boulder, both for her donation of massages to people facing challenging medical situations, as well as her work for the association to make massage therapy education more accessible on the Western Slope.
For many of the patients it's the first time they've ever received a massage, said Debra Hesse, Cancer Survivorship Program Coordinator at St. Mary's.
It makes them feel wonderful and they come away smiling, she said.
Veselack and students who've become licensed schedule free massages for patients, their loved ones and staff members Monday through Friday from 1-3 p.m. Students who are in the process of getting their certification practice only on staff members.
Since Veselack first offered to do free massages six years ago, the program has expanded to free ortho-bionomy sessions, donated by local practitioners. Ortho-bionomy uses gentle movements, comfortable positioning, brief compression and subtle contact to bring about healing.
"It's really been a phenomenal thing and it all happened because Marilyn offered free massages," Hesse said. "It's turned into this fabulous program and patients are really blessed by it."
"At a time when all their money is going to medicine, to get a free massage is a pretty sweet deal."
Veselack, who owns and directs the Institute of Therapeutic Massage of Western Colorado, 1938 N. First St., Suite 6, is interested in getting the word out about the correct method of massaging people with cancer.
"Light and soft for cancer patients is recommended," Veselack said. "Otherwise, it impedes the healing process. It can neutralize the medicine," by pushing out the fluids injected to kill cancer cells.
It was once commonly believed that massage would spread cancer cells around, and was thus contra-indicated for cancer patients.
Research studies have proven that to be untrue, said Mary Peifer, a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist who specializes in oncology massage.
There are special considerations, however, Peifer said, when massaging cancer patients. Deep tissue massage is not recommended for cancer patients because their body is compromised. Deep body work can add to a patient's fatigue and possibly cause bruising, she said.
Peifer is teaching a three-day workshop in Grand Junction titled "Massage for People Living with Cancer" June 14-16. The course is approved for continuing education units.
From Illinois, Peifer is one of six national, authorized instructors within the Oncology Massage Education Associates teaching team. She was trained and mentored by Gayle MacDonald, author of "Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer."
The classes will "go over how to handle a person who has undergone surgery, or is currently going through chemotherapy, or is getting radiation therapy," Peifer said. "You have to tailor the work to what is going on."
Veselack, 75, was a music teacher before she became a massage therapist. She got into massage after a chiropractor recommended it due to her disintegrating lower lumbar area when she was in her 30s.
She received regular massages for three years, her condition stabilized and she avoided surgery which was her intention. She then decided to go to massage school. She's had her own practice since 1997, and opened her massage school in 1998.
Sister Ann Ashwood, retired Holy Family school principal, has gone to Veselack for massages for six or seven years, she said.
"I so admire her because she is able to incorporate the mind-body-spirit in her work," Ashwood said. "I recently had back surgery and I credit her (and my surgeon) for my rapid recovery."
For more information regarding the "massage for people living with cancer" course, visit thebodykneadsmassage.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To resister for the class e-mail email@example.com or call 970-255-8037.