First of Nine: Tensegrity Blog

Portland, Oregon's Cancer Survivorship and Bodywork Zine by Compassion Arts PDX, LLC

Susan G. Komen and massage for cancer. An update.

Last week, First of Nine posted an article about Susan G. Komen, the huge, non-profit in support of breast cancer. I truly had no idea it would get such a response, reaching a nationwide audience.

To recap… I have a friend at a local Portland, Oregon non-profit that was setting up a booth at Susan G. Komen’s annual breast cancer conference in Portland, Oregon. She invited me to offer massage at the event and connect with the oncology world.

She contacted Toni Mountain at Susan G. Komen and was given quite a response, saying massage was not permitted at the event. Check out First of Nine’s original post, Susan G. Komen says massage is illegal?! An opportunity to educate!

Advanced massage therapy and bodywork for folks living with cancer and survivors of cancer with Hamid Shibata Bennett, LMT, CAMT (OBMT #301). Photography by Hamid Shibata Bennett

So, my friend went to the annual conference and saw quite a few other complimentary and alternative medicine modalities represented.

The conference included booths from the following organizations:
• IntelliFitness (a software company for big health clubs and gyms)
• NCNM (National College of Natural Medicine)
• OCOM (Oregon College of Oriental Medicine)
• Northwest Reiki Association

That’s fine. And, interesting that Reiki was welcomed, with no licensing or education requirements. Now then, some of my best friends are Reiki masters and I’m Reiki, level II, so I have all kinds of love for energy work. I just find it all rather curious.

So, after what I perceived to be a rather crude snub on the noble profession of massage therapy, I started writing letters to the Oregon Board of Massage Therapists, the ABMP, the AMTA, the Society for Oncology Massage and other professional massage organizations. And, then I wrote to both the national and local affiliates of Susan G. Komen asking why massage was not allowed at their event.

After the weekend, Susan G. Komen gave me a call and left a voicemail. The next day, I talked to Toni Mountain.

Toni suggested that she never used the word ”illegal.” Perhaps it was a misunderstanding. Things like that happen during conversation. Bygones. However, Susan G. Komen’s attorneys advised that my friend’s non-profit could be sued, Susan G. Komen could be sued and the venue, the Oregon Convention Center, could be sued if massage therapy was offered at the event.

So, there was Susan G. Komen’s explanation for why massage was not allowed or not permitted at their conference in Portland, Oregon.

Do we really live in a world where the art of touch, of contact and connection, brings on fear of legal action? That’s not the community I know in Portland, Oregon. And, that’s not the mindset I wish to nurture in my local community. That’s not the Stumptown way.

There are thousands of licensed massage therapists in Oregon. An LMT has a license to touch. In a world where doctors rarely touch their patients, massage therapists can offer therapeutic touch to those in pain in any setting or location. Yeah, we can do that.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, Jessica Sims, LMT (OBMT #7012) receives myofascial bodywork. Photography by Hamid Shibata Bennett

Massage therapy and bodywork has been shown to reduce treatment related side effects in cancer patients, to reduce pain in cancer patients and to reduce treatment related fatigue in cancer patients. Touch empowers, reclaiming the body from the medical community and regaining one’s sense of self. Touch is an essential element in cancer survivorship, an essential element in developing kinesthetic awareness, an essential element in healing.

Here in Portlandia, we’re bringing massage and bodywork to cancer survivorship programs. I recently read that 80% of breast cancer patients seek out complimentary and alternative forms of health care. It saddens me to hear that Susan G. Komen is selectively cutting funding from local non-profits that have massage and acupuncture programs, as it is seen as a form of ”medical treatment” which they do not support.

So, Susan G. Komen… Here in Portland, Oregon, we’re building a community that cares. Where compassion comes before fear of litigation. We have a lot of folks with fresh ideas that want to help survivors of cancer through natural, hands-on methods. We’re here to inspire!

Let’s bring cancer care into the twenty-first century with collaboration, communication and compassion here in Portlandia. Let’s develop a new model for how we care for one another. This rare lymphoma survivor will do his part, but I can’t do it alone. It takes a village… it takes a community.

So, c’mon Susan G. Komen… Put a bird on it!

Hamid : )

Just finding First of Nine? Dive on in to Stumptown’s massage and bodywork zine!

Disrupting the positive feedback loop of chronic pain
Mentoring in the massage community
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37 comments on “Susan G. Komen and massage for cancer. An update.

  1. Kathy Carlisle
    March 22, 2012

    YES Hamid…Go on with your bad self:)

  2. Marion
    March 22, 2012

    How regressive of them when so much is opening up in bodywork for cancer survivors. How sad that there were people at the convention that could have benefited and didn’t – just because someone was scared they might get sued!

    • Marion… perhaps with enhanced awareness that discussions like this bring, we can reach more people in the longer term. That is my intention by raising a bit of a fuss.

  3. Jeff Sims
    March 22, 2012

    The Texas Ranger’s motto (one that should be familiar to Ms Komen):

    “Know when you are in the right, and keep on coming.”

    • Jeff…. I’ve got a US Marshall in my pappy’s side of the family’s history. Thanks, man… thanks for the reminder…. Texas Rangers and Samurai (from my mum’s side) have perhaps a great deal in common.

  4. Jeff Sims
    March 22, 2012

    I wonder, “what is she really thinking?” After the fiasco surrounding planned parenthood funding, perhaps a fear-based pattern is overwhelming Ms Komen, et al.

    I support you Hamid.

  5. Mitch Gries
    March 22, 2012

    Ignorance is bliss. Offer Susan G. Komen a treatment or two and see if she persists with her ignorance.

    • Mitch…. ya know, giving someone a massage does really change things, eh? I suppose I could send them a stack of gift certificates! Dude…. snazzy idea!

  6. Maria Varesio, LMT
    March 22, 2012

    Hhhhmmm … I don’t understand her “legal” reasoning, when LMT volunteers are welcome and highly sought after by all other health organizations (Relay for Life, Junior Diabetes Research Foundation, American Heart & Lung Assoc., American Cancer Society, Answer to Cancer, just to name a few) … all of whom I’ve been honored to offer volunteer services in the past. Me thinks something else is afoot in Dodge City!

    • Maria… I have a feeling you’re right. A lot of their top execs are resigning. Perhaps with new leadership, they’ll get back to their community-minded roots. It’s an ideal time to speak up!

      And, this is a wonderful list of other resources that do embrace massage! Great places to volunteer!

      I recently did massage at the Be The One Run put on by the Be The Match Foundation. Good fun!

  7. susan
    March 22, 2012

    Maybe you should forward a copy of this book to our friends at the Komen group…”Medicine Hands” by Gayle MacDonald. It talks about the continuing fears about massage and cancer. It’s a very interesting book that I would recommend to any practitioner interested in working with oncology patients…

    • I have an old copy of Medicine Hands. It was woefully out of date when I took my oncology massage classes. ha! It’s probably a good idea to have a few copies of that book around! Susan… great, proactive idea!

  8. Ann Ketter
    March 23, 2012

    I have breast cancer and have been spreading the word on komen for years. This isn’t an exception to the way they do business (and I do mean business), it’s the norm for them. The pictures are more important to them then the women. They are very exclusionary. In most cities, if I die, my husband would be excluded from the komen run. And as they have recently shown, poor women are not welcome either. They don’t play well with other organizations. That army of attorneys regularly sues over trademark infringement. Komen is also sucking the wind and money out of every other charity. The cancer that kills the most women is lung cancer. The number one killer of women is heart disease. Komen is a very conservative, republican organization making money off a concern that deeply touches many.

    • Ann…. may you heal, may you transform. Focus on all the good in life!

      My friend, Tonya Priestly, the executive director of Sisters4Survivors, says that once you’re diagnosed, you are a survivor. You, my friend… are a surivor.

      We can do a lot to raise awareness in our community.

    • Jennifer Gemski
      April 4, 2012

      Good to know, Ann. I recently helped a friend with a donation supporting her Komen ride for the cure event. I didn’t research the charity very much as it is “popular” so I just gave. I will definitely pay close attention when donating in the future to support charities/causes that stand for compassion for their people and not just for money. Thanks for sharing your story. I believe a Power greater than money is on your side. God Bless!

  9. Robert Spicer
    March 23, 2012

    Hamid, I too am puzzled by her response, I am a CMT as well as a CST CranioSacral Therapist with advanced training I work with the medical and in private practice with Cancer patients and pre and post PG amoung other clients. I have never had a question as to who is responsible, as we all in the state of Indiana have to carry Insurance to meet state standards. Is that not so in all other states?

    • Robert…

      Awesome to know Indiana has these guidelines. Oregon does too, requiring liability insurance to practice. If renting a practice space, it’s often required to show proof of insurance.

      I’d appreciate a little feedback. My experience working with oncology massage is truly only just beginning. If confronted with a response such as this… i.e.. an event saying massage is not permitted or allowed… how would educate them?

      • Ann Ketter
        March 25, 2012

        It is a valid question … Just not the way the foundation plays it. Breast cancer frequently leads to lymphadema. Most highly qualified massage therapists, even teachers, will only touch me from the waist down because of the lymphedema. Also, in New York, a massage therapist can get certification for cancer stage I and II, but it’s an additional certification for Stage III. Again, sigh, I’m left out. And trust me, the execs at the Susan Komen foundation know all about the power of touch …. from their massage at the spa; right after their facial.

  10. tinahull
    March 23, 2012

    wow! wow! wow! Hamid, again I am completely at a loss for words. Something is definately not right with that organization. How and why would they be sued. The person getting the massage would be clothed, the person giving the massage is licensed and is insured. The person would sue you not the organization if there was any issues. I hope the AMTA pursues this. They really lack education, especially at a time, when the oncologists are starting to see Massage Therapy as an integral part of the care of the person with cancer. They are out of touch!

    • Tina…. I don’t pretend to understand their viewpoint. The AMTA has contacted me wanting to know more. They wish to pursue the matter further.

      This new generation of oncologist is increasing open to collaboration in the community. We’ll have an oncologist on site at our first Taking Care: A Community Approach to Cancer Care event on June 2nd here in Portland, Oregon.

  11. Hamid, good for you for taking this incredible opportunity for advocacy and education! I’m proud of you!
    A side note, regarding legal protection. They could simply request that any practitioners performing therapy onsite get them (and the site, and any other concerned parties) listed as “additional insured” on the practitioner’s liability insurance. Many insurance companies will do this for free, though it does take a month or two. At least that negates one of their arguments!

    Between this and the Planned Parenthood funding issue, I will no longer be donating to or supporting any Komen events. So short-sighted on their part.

    • Karin,

      Thanks. I really appreciate this. I get a little nervous when I rock the boat. It helps to get feedback from a friend.

      Adding an “additional insured” is really quite easy with most insurance companies. I’m with ABMP… they usually take a couple days to fill the request after my call. And, they can email a .pdf.

  12. restandrelaxbodyworks
    March 23, 2012

    energy work. I just find it all rather curious.regularly sues over trademark infringement. Komen is also sucking the wind and money out of every other charity.

    • I’m reading more and more about Komen suing over anyone using the term “for the cure”. They’re effectively shutting down local non-profits… folks that just want to help out their neighbors. It’s quite astonishing that an organization with a humanitarian mission wishes to stop others from helping out in their own way. Perhaps they will begin to rethink these choices.

  13. thatstherubmassage
    March 24, 2012

    Wonderfully put Hamid! Keep up the good fight.

  14. Pingback: Myofascial pregnancy massage | First of Nine: Tensegrity Blog

  15. Lindsey
    March 25, 2012

    That’s pretty crazy. I haven’t done anything with Susan G. Komen, but I have worked a few relay for life events. Its truly amazing the stories you hear and people you meet. Everyone is so positive and excited. Good luck and keep fighting:)

    Lindsey b. C.M.T.

    • Lindsey… those big events sure are a ton of fun, eh? Such a buzz in the air! In 10-15 minutes, a massage can shift someone’s energy, break up the positive feedback loop of their pain cycle. It’s way cool!

      Care to share your experience at Relay for Life?

  16. handsinmotion
    March 25, 2012

    the AMTA frequently works with Energizer to provide massages to participants of Komen 3-Days – I am surprised that the statement about massage was so “blanket” as the Komen organization continues to use massage in other venues and in collaboration with professional leaders of industry across the US. Komen currently promotes MT as a CAM on their website, citing sources for the alternative therapy resource:

  17. Heather
    March 30, 2012

    Sigh we have knee jerk reactions in this country. Instead of saying NO never, they should have requested no hands on at the event, and to have a booth to educate about massage, instead. IMHO i think that would be a reasonable approach if they were worried about the education and skills of a practitioner in that venue. Hamid I think you are approaching this very well, keep up your good work, you have earned my respect! Just as they have lost it.

  18. Costello
    August 28, 2012

    No… massage only reflexology.

    • Whole lotta psuedoscience behind traditional reflexology. Not sure what you mean by this comment, Costello…

      • Costello
        October 25, 2012

        Pseudosciece is the best 100%.

  19. Pingback: Bringing massage to cancer survivorship | First of Nine: Tensegrity Blog

  20. Julie Ackerman
    February 14, 2013

    This is a message to the previous Ann Ketter and to you…Thanks so much for this post. I am an LMT and Certified Lymphatic Therapist and do many public events doing massage as well. I do not understand this stance Komen is taking and it is truly short sited as we all feel.
    Ann- you can get full body work…find an Oncology Massage Therapist…
    I will say that people who have been through Cancer treatment should ONLY use massage therapists who have been fully educated in Oncology Massage. There are so many considerations during and after treatment during the rest of your lifetime such as : pressure, dosing, areas worked, frequency ect. The knowledge of treatments, drugs and their effects, surgeries, metastasis, lymphatic system and so much more is vital for safe treatment. I can not express this strongly enough. GET EDUCATED with at least a 48 hour class… Get info at Society for Oncology Massage website (
    Even at events with chair massage on women who have gone through breast cancer treatment should ONLY use Oncology Massage Therapists. The issue is that lymph node removal and/or radiation out women at a risk for Lymphedema for life and it is a hard and debilitating issue to live with. There is very specific training to working with this population and the risks for them are daunting… Survivors can get great massage work as long as the therapist has a full knowledge of the lymphatic system.
    Oncology Massage is fantastic and we need more therapists educated so that we can educate short sited groups like Komen.
    Thanks for this post, Julie Ackerman (at Flow Therapies in Phila. and also Cancer treatment Centers of America on staff doing massage!)…
    PS- just moved from eugene 4 years ago and i am so homesick!!! I miss coffee at Floyds!

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This entry was posted on March 22, 2012 by in Massage and Bodywork and tagged , , , , , , .

Compassion Arts PDX, LLC

Hamid Shibata Bennett, LMT, CAMT (OBMT #301)
Advanced massage therapy and bodywork
3810 SE Belmont ST
Portland, Oregon 97214

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