It's a known and sad fact that one in three Irish people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. But while more people are surviving the disease than ever before, they're also left with the side effects and aftermath of the difficult treatment that has saved their lives.
Noticing this amongst her clientele, spa owner Adrienne Stewart set out to provide a cancer care service at the Rainforest Spa in order to help those undergoing or recovering from cancer treatment to experience touch therapy and complementary treatments that would make them feel that little bit better.
"We, unfortunately, had a surge in the number of clients presenting at the spa with cancer, looking for some way to feel as well as possible. That, along with our own friends and family having suffered with cancer, sparked the creation of Rainforest Cancer Care. Our focus is very much on wellness here at Rainforest Spa and we felt we couldn't overlook the needs of those who need the help of our holistic touch the most.
"It prompted us to look at a higher level of specialised training for our team, so within a short time, Christine Clinton - a specialist in the spa cancer care field - flew in from the US to train our therapists."
Christine devised her renowned training programme after experiences in her own life with cancer. Having trained in massage and beauty care in Dublin before moving to the US, it was her husband's own misdiagnosis that prompted her to look in to cancer care. "I realised, as we went to each and every doctor, specialist and hospital appointment during the six weeks before we found out my husband was actually cancer-free, that despite having a background in anatomy and physiology, I really knew very little about cancer - what it is exactly, how it's treated and what are the side effects.
"I made the decision to educate myself about it so that one day I could be of help to the many people we had met in cancer hospitals who were less fortunate than us. I enrolled in an integrative medicine programme at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer hospital in New York, where I learned medical massage for cancer patients."
However, it soon became clear to Christine that there was a huge emotional component to working with those living with cancer.
"In order to provide a more comprehensive programme, I received training in Mind Body Medicine at Harvard. I learned new listening skills, how to ask difficult questions with confidence and compassion, and how to address the anxiety and depression often associated with cancer and other life changing illness.
"Some time later, I was trained in oncology skincare, learning how to recognise medically induced rashes, hand-and-foot syndrome and many other skin conditions associated with cancer treatments."
When her father was sadly diagnosed with stage three stomach cancer five years ago, she came home and met with his oncology team and developed a holistic treatment plan for him here in Dublin, which led to the Christine Clinton Cancer Care Programme.
Many people are sceptical of "alternative" treatments for cancer, but Christine is keen to point out that her programme is complementary, and works alongside, and after, traditional medical treatments. She says that there are many scientific studies showing the benefits of touch for anybody, but especially so when you feel unwell, vulnerable and anxious.
"Touch therapy has been proven to stimulate your immune system, improve metabolic function and increase oxygen uptake. When we integrate traditional medical treatments with holistic, therapeutic treatments we create a more rewarding and balanced therapy."
We know of the more common side effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss and vomiting, but there are so many more that vary from each patients due to types of, and length of, treatment. "Some clients present with EGFR rash or steroid rash, some with hand/foot syndrome, and some clients have difficulty with their vein. They can collapse which makes chemo' challenging. Blood clots can also be a problem. Some clients will lose their nails."
"It is now recognised that people going through cancer need to be supported holistically, not just with medicine," says Helen Forristal, director of nursing services with the Marie Keating Foundation. "Cancer treatment is a time of high anxiety, emotion and stress, so being able to signpost people to complementary therapy options is important.
"Seeking complementary therapy outside the acute, bustling oncology units can help some people to take time for themselves, to adjust emotionally and physically, and to improve their sense of wellbeing."
But are these therapies actually safe for patients undergoing cancer treatment?
Helen is keen to point out that touch therapy is definitely not a substitute for conventional medicine. "If you are considering complementary therapy, ensure your doctor is part of the discussion and decision-making process. He or she can help you to decide what complementary options are most suitable at each stage of your treatment."
The Irish Cancer Society told us that there are a variety of touch-therapy programmes available, and some people have found that therapeutic touch can help improve anxiety, sleep problems and give a sense of wellbeing. However, the society says that there is no scientific evidence to prove that touch therapy can prevent, treat or cure cancer or any other disease.
"We advise all cancer patients to check with their doctor before having any complementary or alternative therapy."
One lady who is availing of Christine's programme at the Rainforest centre is Mary McDonald (60) from Portlaoise. She has a long history with cancer, having first being diagnosed in 1999.
"I was told I had final stage small cell lung cancer, and had lots of chemo' and radiotherapy. Doctors tried to operate but I haemorrhaged, and I was told I had three to six months to live. But miraculously, I just fought it. I didn't sit in under it at all, and had great faith in myself. My tumour eventually went away."
Despite this incredible recovery, four years ago, Mary was told she had a tumour in her leg, and had an operation to remove it. Then, in 2013, she was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, something her doctors believe was a side effect of all the chemotherapy she had in 1999. "They removed my oesophagus, and moved my lungs and heart around, which means that I was worried whenever going to have a normal treatment in a spa, or any kind of touch therapy."
Mary had been attending the Cuisle cancer support centre on and off for years, and it was there she heard about Rainforest Cancer Care and Christine's programme. "I didn't know anything about it, but when I heard that the staff were certified for cancer care, I wanted to try it. Now it's great, because I know I can go on a spa weekend with my friends, and I can have some treatments with that different touch. I had lymphedema, and can have treatments to help with that."
Mary now regularly attends the spa and recommends it to others who have experienced cancer.
"The physical benefits of spa cancer care treatments range from scar reduction, reduced nausea and fatigue and better ability to sleep to pain reduction. Importantly, there are emotional benefits too," explains spa owner, Adrienne.
"Clients get the opportunity to relax with us in a non-clinical environment where their therapist has the time to talk to them about the stresses they are undergoing. Often, those with cancer may not want to openly admit to their loved ones how much they are struggling, to protect them, but they can share with us."
÷ For more information on Rainforest Cancer Care in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, see www.rainforest.ie
÷ For Christine's programme, see www.christineclintoncancercare.com
÷ There are a number cancer support services affiliated to the Irish Cancer Society across the country that offer complementary therapies, free of charge. See www.cancer.ie/how-we-can-help/support/find
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