As a Dartmouth-Hitchcock cancer patient, I felt the healing power of touch

A reiki session like the one I had while a cancer patient. Photo: Norris Cotton Cancer Center

I am a leukemia and stem cell transplant survivor, and I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for the doctors and nurses who treated me at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, the tests and drugs they gave me, the training, compassion and experience they dedicated to saving my life. But one thing I also learned in my months of treatment was the healing power of something very simple.

The power of touch.

I know, because the cancer center provided that too.

Being a cancer patient is being a pincushion. I got stuck with a lot of needles; it’s what it takes to save lives. It’s also being alone with your thoughts, wondering “what if?” when you’re lying awake in your hospital bed at night. The nurses at Dartmouth-Hitchcock do all they can to ease those discomforts, big and small.

So does a much smaller team of hands-on healers who practice massage and reiki -- two therapies you wouldn’t think of as cancer fighters. But I believe they are.

The first massage I ever had was delivered at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. I’ll never forget the gentle strength of the therapist’s hands, how good it felt as muscles tight with fear loosened as he worked -- to be touched, not poked, to relax into restful drowsiness. It was a blessing.

Still, I’ll be honest: I was skeptical when a nurse stepped into my room on another afternoon to ask if I wanted to try reiki. A therapist, channeling her energy -- whatever that meant -- to help my body heal? But okay, I thought; what’s to lose, why not.

Shortly after she placed her hands on me, I felt it: a sense of warmth inside, which began where she was touching me and spread. It felt soothing. I was alive. I was grateful.

I’ve since learned there’s evidence showing these treatments are, in fact, helpful. They’re no substitute for the doctors and the tubes and the drugs -- but they help, physically and emotionally.

They’re available at the cancer center because of money raised through The Prouty and other fundraising events held by the Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. These donations pay for the massage therapists, and they support the office that coordinates the reiki volunteers. (Of course, they pay for much, much more too.)

That leaves me with something to say to the thousands of people who contribute to this fundraising every single year: Thanks. You’ve touched me.

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