This I Believe

Lisa - Arlington, Massachusetts
Entered on July 17, 2006

This I believe; Sometimes breaking a rule is a risk worth taking

By Lisa Santoro

I believe that sometimes rules need to be broken. Last week, I had my blood drawn, my body sent through imaging machines, and allowed my neck and shoulders to be poked and prodded yet again. This year I will have survived Hodgkins lymphoma for twenty years. I tried to peek in at the technician looking at my mammogram. Was it taking too much time for a dreadful reason? Were free radicals feeling particularly uppity this year?

I tried to hurry the nurses, telling them I couldn’t be late to work later that afternoon. My client was finishing radiation treatments this week. I’m a massage therapist and one of my specialties is working with cancer patients. In massage school, part of ethics training is not to self disclose. Not talking too much about ourselves leaves room for the massage client to have their own experience. They can let go and relax enough to feel unburdened by whatever physical or emotional pain they may carry. I had broken that rule with this client. In our first appointment together, she told me she was about to start cancer treatments. She felt uncomfortable that I wouldn’t want to see her or be scared by what she was going through. In that moment I felt like a risk had to be taken. Even though I work with people at all levels of this disease this felt different. I felt that I needed to break the rule of not self-revealing. I felt it would be therapeutic for her to know I understood like no one else might. I crossed that strictly taught boundary line and told my client I was a survivor.

I told her some basics about what I had gone through twenty years earlier. I’d had my spleen out and radiation treatments from jaw to pelvis. I’d been stapled together after surgery and had burns like she would have. I knew what it felt like not to be able to swallow or speak, to wake up in the morning to a pillow full of fallen hair, and how heavy a brave face felt. She was relieved, and came for massages on days when she couldn’t emotionally communicate with anyone else.

I made it to our appointment on time. An hour earlier, she had been at the hospital I’d just run out of. She cried about seeing the children in chemo caps, and laughed about the picture of Captain Kirk of Star Trek in the radiologist’s office I’d just left. I held her hand as an understanding witness, a compatriot in the extraordinary exercise in living through a hellish experience. This past year I went to a conference for Hodgkins survivors. I learned of all the health risks I might have because of my treatment. The longer I live, the higher the risk of a secondary cancer rises. I’m healthy so far but should it happen to me again, I’m hoping someone breaks a few rules for me too.