Coronavirus and Massage Therapist Resources

Laura Allen

We are living in extraordinary times. Everyone I know has experienced hard times at some point, individually, but as a whole nation, and as the collective of massage therapists, we are currently going through things that we didn’t expect to go through. When this started (before it was acknowledged as a pandemic, and unfortunately even since), some people had the belief that it was something that existed on the other side of the world and wouldn’t affect us. Others have claimed it’s just a germ, or just the flu, or a political conspiracy. As a nation, we were ill prepared. I will save my political rant about that for another day (or another book). Right now, people need help.

Many massage therapists have voluntarily shut down their practice, and that includes those who have no savings and are worried about where their next rent payment will come from. Others are continuing to work, citing their finances. Others work for chains that threaten that they will have no job if they refuse to work. Harder times are coming, unless we do everything we can to stem the spread of this illness.

I have put together some information and some resources that massage therapists will hopefully find beneficial.

Financial Help

    • Today (Saturday March 21) as I am writing this, the Senate and the House are in session, putting differences aside, and working with White House negotiators trying to finalize the details of the economic stimulus plan. Current thought is that individuals and small businesses will receive $1000-$1200 checks, and the plan is to get them out there very quickly, hopefully April, and there may be an additional payment in May. The current thought is that if you filed taxes last year, you will not have to do anything special in order to receive it; it will automatically be mailed to you. I suggest watching national news shows to keep updated on this.

 

    • The Department of Labor has several important announcements on their website. While there is a statement to contact your individual state, the Federal  government has issued specific new guidance for the states. Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:
    • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
    • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
    • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
    • In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

 

    • Obviously, I cannot list resources for specific states. My suggestions are for you to contact your state unemployment office to find out. There are local offices in most towns. I live in a very small town, but there is one here.

 

    • If you are a business owner, the Small Business Administration is helping small businesses with long-term (up to 30 years) loans at 3.75% interest that can cover operating expenses, payroll, etc. When you call your local office, say you are inquiring about the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (the name they are giving to this instance).

 

    • If you have credit card debt, don’t panic. Call your card company. Many of the major credit card companies are offering cardholders the opportunity to skip payments without interest. 

 

 

    • If you have a student loan, now is a good time to ask for forbearance. Contact your particular lender.

 

    • Many utility, phone, and internet companies are giving people a break right now by easing shutoffs and forgoing late payments. Call your utility company to find out what they are doing.

 

    • There is further help for both renters and for homeowners. The Forbes website states that they will update this list as more information becomes available.  Best advice, though, is if you feel your are going to get behind on your mortgage, call the lender now. Don’t wait until you’re in real trouble of being foreclosed on. In this environment, and because lenders often get the information about financial developments before they do, they will often be sympathetic and help you out by deferring payments or accepting partial payments, or even refinancing at a favorable rate. They do not want to get stuck with a bunch of defaulted foreclosure properties in the midst of a recession, which we are undoubtedly heading for. They would probably rather take some money that no money, or give you a grace period on making payments.

 

If you rent, or your home (or office space) is financed by an individual, all the more reason to handle it and call them now. See if they are able and willing to work with you. I have seen quite a few therapists on FB who said that their landlords were very sympathetic and willing to work with them. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Some landlords may take a hard line or just not be in a financial position to do so themselves and refuse, but if they think about it carefully, they may decide that they would have difficulty replacing their reliable tenants in this environment, and work with you.

 

    • Seek LOCAL resources. Now is not the time for pride to stand in the way of doing things you wouldn’t normally do, such as going to a food bank or going to local charities to ask for assistance. Rutherford County NC, where I live, is NC’s largest county, area-wise, largely rural, and only has a population of about 60,000. There are probably at least 20 food pantries here that are operated by churches and community organizations. There is also a soup kitchen open somewhere every day of the week. There are several local non-profits that help people with rent, heating expenses (thank God the need for that is close to over in most places).

 

    • Insurance tip from Allissa Haines: If you buy your health insurance on the national or your state exchange, you can probably edit your application to reflect your new income and get a lower rate. Allissa and Michael Reynolds have also made a lot of their podcasts available for free at https://www.massagebusinessblueprint.com/free-stuff

      Speaking of insurance, keep in mind that your liability insurance will not cover you in the event of a client catching the virus in your practice. Allissa, incidentally, was exposed to the virus, and was in the uncomfortable position of having to call her clients to tell them that they had been exposed. You do not want to find yourself in that position.

 

Seek a temporary job. Go to a local temp agency and see what’s available. MANY grocery stores are currently hiring due to the food panic that’s going on. Yes, you will still be in contact with people. However, grocers are not a licensed profession, and they do not swear to a code of ethics that they will First Do No Harm. Amazon is hiring. Walmart announced  yesterday that they plan to hire 150,000 additional workers. Ingle’s announced the same.

There are many massage therapists that have other degrees, other trade experience, and/or other skills. I personally know many who are everything from CNAs, nurses, truck drivers, and formerly (or still part-time) work in other professions. Medical personnel are in great demand right now, and so are all kinds of support staff in hospitals, from the janitor to billing coders.

I’ve also seen some enterprising therapists who are doing home deliveries for people who can’t get out…doing errands, going to pick up groceries or to the drugstore for the elderly or immune-compromised. Some are even doing it as volunteers. If you are in the position of being able to do that, what a service to your fellow inhabitants of the planet.

Now that schools and day care centers have been shut down in many places, it’s possible that neighbors who are still able to work may need reliable temporary child care.

  • Unless you are 100% self-quarantining, there is hardly any work situation we can be in where we will not be exposed to someone. Social distancing is the best way to flatten the curve. It gives us the best chance of not passing this on to anyone. Going out anywhere to work is a risk, but again, those who work outside of licensed health professions do not swear that they are going to uphold a code of ethics to first do no harm. If you are a license therapist, you took that oath. Uphold it.We cannot maintain any social distance with our hands on unclothed bodies and our face inches away from theirs.

Be creative. You may possess skills that other people need that you can do at home, such as website building skills or baking bread (since there seems to be a run on that at the grocery store), proofreading, sewing, preparing taxes if you’re that savvy, or any number of things.

  • If you are a member of a professional massage association, contact their leadership and ask for their assistance in getting unemployment coverage for massage therapists during this unusual circumstance. They pay lobbyists in nearly every state. You will find the links to their leadership on their websites.

ABMP has a link on their website supporting the effort to obtain benefits for massage therapists. It allows you to send a pre-written letter that they have supplied to your congressperson by filling in your info and submitting a form. PLEASE take advantage of this call to action. They also have updates on their website about the actions in different states as far as shutting down or limiting massage therapy. ABMP also has a link to state shutdown orders on their website. 

AMTA has a link on their website supporting the effort to obtain benefits for massage therapists. It allows you to send a pre-written letter that they have supplied to your congressperson by filling in your info and submitting a form. PLEASE take advantage of this call to action. AMTA also has a link to state actions on their website. 

Keep Up with the Latest Updates

PLEASE keep abreast of your state’s situation by checking the website of your governor, your local health department, and your state massage board. There has been a lot of criticism of state boards, due to confusion that state boards have the legal authority to shut down the practice of massage on a statewide basis, which is not true. They are regulatory boards, not legislative. They can and should make announcement once your governor has signed an executive order to curtail massage, or order the shutdown of anything in your state, but they cannot personally mandate that massage therapists have to shut it down.

City councils have in some cases taken it on themselves to shut it down on a local basis. Here in my state of NC, Asheville’s council has shut it down. Other places may do the same.

Some state boards have extended the deadline for CE/license renewal and/or made allowances for taking your CE, due to the cancellation of massage meetings and conventions. In my state of NC, we are allowed to do all 24 hours online this time, instead of the usual 12. Check your board website for info.

Professional association members can get CE online at no additional charge; it’s included in your membership dues.

Centers for Disease Control

World Health Organization

 

Wise Words from Massage Therapists that I Listen to:

From Ruth Werner:
Ignore My Earlier Advice. Shut It Down.

My friends and colleagues, it’s time to shut it down. It’s past time to shut it down.
I wrote a piece two weeks ago that provided some ideas about how to take care of your practice, assuming you were still seeing clients. I hereby rescind that advice, and I apologize to anyone who was misled.

Close your practice.

For how long? Who knows?

If it were me, I would start with four weeks and re-evaluate after three.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had all the information we needed to make informed, non-panicky decisions that we knew would maximize effectiveness against the spread of COVID-19 virus, and minimize financial hardship? Sadly, we don’t have that data.

No one is going to make this decision for you. Not your membership organization, not your state board, only you.

No one is going to make this any easier for you.

This is your call. And if you want my opinion (and presumably you’re interested, because you’re reading this), here it is: close your practice.

Here are some things we know that have led me to this point of view:

1. The time between exposure and symptoms can be up to 14 days.

2. The virus is contagious for days before symptoms develop, so your “healthy client” might not be.

3. The virus stays intact on surfaces for several days; it stays intact in the air for several hours (at least).

4. COVID-19 is extremely contagious, and it doesn’t take a lot of exposure to spread from one person to another.

5. The virus appears to be contagious after symptoms subside—but we don’t know how long.

6. At this point, older people and those with impaired immune systems are not necessarily more likely than others to catch the virus, but they are more likely to need extensive medical interventions. (Although that may be changing. In some countries the number of people in hospital care are skewing much younger.)

7. We don’t have enough medical capacity to manage what’s coming—which makes it even more vital not to add to that load in any way.

There are so many things about this situation that should have been different. I could list a bunch, but (A) it wouldn’t help and (B) isn’t our blood pressure high enough without recounting all the ways our systems have failed us? And this frustration doesn’t even include some of the nutso crazypants stuff I’ve seen on Facebook and other outlets. For the record, keeping your throat moist will not prevent you from getting sick with COVID-19. Neither will holding your breath for 10 seconds.

But if we all commit to extreme social isolation, it is practically for sure that the impact of COVID-19 in this country will be less extreme, at least in the short run. While roughly the same number of people will get sick, it will happen over a longer period of time. This “flattening of the curve” means our health-care facilities might be able to keep up with our needs (see link here), which means the mortality rate will fall. And the day will come when we might be able to look back and say, “Wow, that wasn’t so bad—weren’t we silly to over-react?”

This will demonstrate that we did it right.

The naysayers and virus-skeptics and my-immune-system-is-strong-so-I’ll-do-what-I-want folks will point fingers and scoff and say we all fell for a huge hoax. Let them. They are wrong.

There’s a parallel in our recent history. In the 1970s, massive changes were put in place to limit the type of air pollution that caused acid rain. At that time, rain was literally melting our forests and corroding our buildings, not to mention what it was doing to groundwater. The changes, while expensive and inconvenient for many industries, worked. Acid rain is no longer considered a threat. And the result: some people (including some politicians who should *swearword* know better) suggest that the changes were unnecessary, because look: acid rain isn’t really a problem! Argle bargle. You can’t *swearword* win.

Let’s Make Some Lemonade!

The financial burden of losing several weeks’ of business is undeniable. I’m sorry, there’s no easy way out of this. Once this crisis has passed, it will be important to plan ahead for the next one. Financial planners recommend having at least a month’s worth of expenses put in an accessible savings account—just for events like this.

That said, having some dedicated but unscheduled time to devote to business holds a lot of potential.

This is a great time to do a really thorough cleaning of your office. Go in when it’s empty, and disinfect your equipment and surfaces. Do a top-to-bottom refresh. Dust, launder, swab, decontaminate, and shine up all your stuff. Listen to loud music while you do it. It will be fun. And when you go back to work—oh, such a joy it will be to enter your gorgeous, sparkling workplace!

This is a great time to take some continuing education online. Go shopping in the rich ABMP collection of online CE classes, here. You could take some business classes, and use this time to make plans for a grand re-opening. You could take some research literacy classes, and go on a PubMed.gov treasure hunt for articles that are up your alley. Have you always been curious about a certain technique or approach to bodywork? Here’s an opportunity to explore it to see what you might want to pursue in live classes.

Do you send out blogs or newsletters for your clients? Get ahead on your writing, and put some pieces away for later. It’s more important than ever to keep those lines of communication open, so this is a good investment of your energy. Let your clients know that while you can’t see them in person, you’re thinking of them.

It’s tax time: get ahead of your taxes for this year, and set up your books for easy use next year.

If you are caring for children during this time, include them in appropriate activities. Make them your model while you watch a technique video. Learn, or re-learn, some anatomy together. Make this time a gift.

Most of all, breathe deeply and be kind. Let’s take care of each other and help each other through a scary time. We’re going to be OK. We will emerge, poorer in money, but richer in experience, because we took the right actions. And we will be ready to help our clients and our communities come back up to full speed when the time is right.

From Cal Cates

Dear everyone who offers a service or type of care that is (when we’re being truly ego-free and honest) non-essential, but who is still staying open and touching/interacting in close proximity with people, but who is “being careful” and “prescreening”,
I have taken the liberty of creating a simplified form to support said caution and prescreening.
1. Please use the space below to list every surface you have touched, every place you have gone and the names of every person who has been within 6 feet of you over the last 14 days.
2. Please use the space below to do the same for each person that you listed above.
When you’re done thoroughly completing this form, the COVID-19 crisis should be over and we’ll be cool to proceed.

From Tracy Walton:
I understand that professional organizations are finding it hard–really hard–to discern right action right now. I have compassion for them and for all of us.
At the same time, this directive falls short (note–she was speaking of the original statement from AMTA, which did not advise therapists to stop doing massage).
The guidelines and messages from other countries are crystal-clear:
Social distancing now. Not tomorrow, now.
Massage is not in accord with social distancing.
Massage therapy may be health care, and important and essential, but it is elective and requires close contact by its nature.
Asymptomatic clients and therapists can and most likely are transmitting the virus.
We cannot afford to miss this. The stakes are unfathomably high.
My practice is closed for 3 weeks and probably longer.

About Me
I started taking bodywork classes back in 1993, finished massage school in 1999, and was in the first wave of people to get licensed in NC. I taught Ethics and marketing classes to my own class in massage school. They needed an instructor and I was qualified, so I was hired. I love massage therapy. I received my first one over 30 years ago when I woke up one morning and couldn’t turn my head. My enlightened mother took me to get a massage. After spending over 20 years in the restaurant business, I sold out and started massage school. I became an Approved Provider of Continuing Education, and since that time, I’ve taught more classes than I can count, mainly in the areas of Ethics, but also teacher training classes, marketing, and massage classes.

I also spent several years volunteering as a Unit Coordinator, and later as the administrator of all the coordinators for the NC Chapter of AMTA. I spent five years serving on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and was twice a delegate to the FSMTB. I’m the author of Heart of Bodywork, the Ethics column of ABMP’s Massage & Bodywork Magazine and the author of numerous books. Most are massage related; a few are on other topics, including one on the state of healthcare in every nation in the world.

I spent 13 years as a clinic owner employing a chiropractor, numerous massage therapists, a naturopath, an acupuncturist, an esthetician, and at various times, other practitioners. I closed it in 2016 when my deceased husband, Champ Allen, was sick. I spent three years working as the Massage Division Director of Soothing Touch, the massage product company, and for a little over a year, I have been working for CryoDerm, the pain relief and massage product company. They are a family-owned company located in FL; I live in NC. I am fortunate to get to work from home. I was recently promoted to President of Sales & Marketing there.

I have also maintained a very small client list for massage that I see in a local spa, usually about 6-8 clients per month. I am not seeing anyone at this time, and don’t intend to until I can be sure it’s safe to do so. I don’t know when that will be. None of us do. I am practicing social distancing and as close to self-quarantine as I can get. My mother, who lives a few miles away from me, is 81, in compromised health, and needs help at times, so I will continue to go there as needed. She has a  home  health care aid most days. I will run necessary errands to keep her from going out. Otherwise, my husband James Clayton (I remarried last year) and I are staying at home with our dogs. Even my brother, who lives directly behind me, and I are maintaining 6 feet between each other. He was injured in a serious accident last year, has had 7 surgeries as a result of that, and has implanted antibiotics. James is a two-time cancer survivor who has had a lot of chemo and radiation, which does a whammy on the immune system, so I certainly don’t want to bring anything home to him.

I wish you all the best in these trying times and I hope you all remain well.

Laura Allen Clayton

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: NCBTMB

I’ve been on hiatus from blogging about the politics of massage and the massage organizations since 2016. It’s time-consuming, and I was just too overwhelmed during the sickness and subsequent passing of my spouse. Plenty has happened in the interim; on a happy note, I got married on July 5 of this year. In February of 2019, I accepted a job as VP of Sales & Marketing at CryoDerm. I also still do a couple of massages every week to keep my hand in, so to speak. During the past few years while I was on break, people have continued to contact me almost daily to report something going on and encouraging me to blog about it. I will probably never be as prolific a blogger as I once was, but I feel I can take a little time to jump back into the fray.

For several years, I reported on the financial status of our massage organizations, which except for ABMP, are all non-profit organizations that are obligated to release their 990 filings. Non-profits are on a different filing schedule than the rest of us, so this report is based on their latest filing for the year 2017. I thought that was a good place to begin again, so I’ll start with the finances of the NCBTMB, which I haven’t reported on since 2014. Click here to read that blog, as it will give you further insight into where things have been, and the direction it appears to be heading. As most of Massage Land is aware, the NCBTMB got out of the licensing business after the MBLEx nearly obliterated their status as the sole path to licensing, except for the few states that had their own. They now offer Board Certification, several specialty certifications, and still administrate the Approved Provider program as sources of revenue.

No announcement has been made about it by the NCBTMB, but Steve Kirin, CEO for the past 8 years, departed in October and has not been replaced. Portia Resnick, the current president of the Board, is acting as interim CEO. Kirin’s salary was reported less than $150,000 a year, which was a very big come-down from some of the previous CEOs. In 2007, when the NCBTMB was in its heyday, the CEO was making over $250,000 and the organization’s revenue was over 8.6 million dollars. Things are obviously not what they used to be back when they were administering thousands of National Certification exams every year. The figures don’t lie, so any comments or criticism from me seem extraneous at this time.

You can set up a free account at Guidestar to see 990 filings from any non-profit (or pay a premium to get more information).

 2018 filing (for the tax year beginning 03/01/2017- 02/28/2018)Note that the NCBTMB filed a change of accounting period in 2017. This return covers only two months from 01/01/2017-02/28-2017. 2017 filing (for the tax year beginning 01/01/2016- 12/31/2016)2016 filing (for the tax year beginning 01/01/2015-12/31/2015
Program Service Revenue1,324,304225,7751,509,4902,015,353
Investment Income34,2151,84815631,568
Other Revenue21,3523,86631,118188,939
Total Revenue1,379,871231,4891,540,7642,235,860
Salaries, other employee compensation, benefits838,837136,246897,2061,066,871
Other expenses689,053188,0391,031,6861,137,897
Total expenses1,527,890324,2851,928,8922,204,768
Revenue less expenses-148,019-92,796-388,12831,092
Total Assets885,018964,5001,006,4541,338,085
Total Liabilities265,700245,257218,547221,017
Net Assets or Fund Balances619,318719,249787,9071,117,068

I Had to Go There to Get Here

On September 5, I’ll be 60. I look in the mirror and think “When did that happen?” Although I have a few more lines on my face, and a whole lot more gray hair that I refuse to dye, I think I look younger than I did 5 or 10 years ago…or maybe I’m just in denial! I took this picture yesterday morning while I was sitting in the dark  having my coffee. No makeup, I hadn’t even combed my hair. My sole adornment is the look of peace on my face.

It’s been a hell of a decade since I hit the half-century mark. It was filled with accomplishment and failure, sickness and death, and loss and sadness. It was filled with love and support from family and friends. It was filled with travel and work and writing and playing music. It was filled with drama that I have separated myself from. It was filled with coming out of the darkness, finding new gloriousness, and landing in a place of comfort and joy and gratitude.

I’m grateful for my parents and my three brothers. I’m grateful for the lifelong friends I have, and some that aren’t lifelong but are family of selection all the same. I’m grateful for my work and that I’ve been able to make a living doing things I love. I’m grateful that I spent 25 years with a good man until death did us part…tomorrow would have been our anniversary and I know he is smiling down on me. I’m grateful for the little house in the country I’ve lived in for 33 years, and my dogs, Fido and Queenie. I’m grateful that I have found love again in the form of James Clayton, whom I married on July 5…I consider myself twice blessed. He makes me think. He picks flowers for me and leaves me cards at random times in random places. He makes me laugh when he sings. He loves my dogs and they love him. He is a gardener and a woodworker and a hell of a harmonica player, and a strong, stubborn survivor. We’re both moody as hell. He puts up with my moods and I put up with his. We’re figuring it out one day at a time. 

I don’t regret much in my life; in the general scheme of things, there’s very little of it I wouldn’t go through again, including the hard times. I figure I had to go there to get here.

 

 

 

Lynda Solien Wolfe, Massage Icon, Needs Our Help

Disclosure: I am employed by CryoDerm, a company that makes pain relief products, as does BioFreeze.

I first met Lynda Solien Wolfe a few years ago, in Florida at one of the best massage events ever, when Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse organized the Massage School Makeover contest that was won by Educating Hands in Miami. We instantly hit it off. We were sitting outside chatting and relaxing when Lynda spontaneously gave me the best foot massage I’ve ever had. How are you not going to like someone who volunteers to rub your feet? We’ve been friends ever since, usually catching up with each other at conventions around the country. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Lynda at her home in Merritt Island, FL.

Most people in the massage profession know Lynda as the face of BioFreeze, where she has worked for many years. She has long been known for her distinctive laugh. I’ve always said if I was in a stadium full of people, I could hear Lynda laughing above anything else. Even though she is in very precarious health now, she still laughs at every opportunity. She was laughing during our visit because Toby Keith, her bulldog, was all over me, even following me to the bathroom. He’s a hoot.  Just a few days after our visit, Lynda was hospitalized for ten days due to having her gallbladder removed. While a lot of gallbladder surgery patients get to go home the next day, that wasn’t the case with Lynda, as her diabetes and kidney failure exacerbate any other health problems that might crop up.

A few months ago, Lynda was dismissed from her job as the Vice President of Massage and Spa at BioFreeze, just a few days before her medical leave was to begin. When I saw the GoFundMe page for Lynda with the story of how this unfolded, I was shocked and dismayed. BioFreeze is a division of Performance Health, who states on their website that their products are sold in more than 100 countries. They are not some fly-by-night, rinky-dinky company. A statement on their website under “Our Values” states “We always operate with the highest integrity.” How is eliminating the job of a person who is in serious need and who has served this company in the way Lynda has for many years a sign of high integrity? I doubt if their bottom line would have been greatly affected if they had given her the medical leave.

Lynda continued representing BioFreeze right up until the day they eliminated her job. I saw her at several massage events last summer when she was obviously ill, but she was there doing her job for them, laughing as usual, and maintaining her positive attitude. She is still maintaining a positive attitude in the face of her illness. She is running the Massage Makes Me Happy campaign from her bed. She wouldn’t let me leave her house until she gave me a bag of stickers and a bag of pins to take with me.

If you’d like to send Lynda a card of encouragement, you can send it to Lynda Solien Wolfe, 176 Via Harvarre, Merritt Island, FL 32953. And if you’re able and led to, please donate to the GoFundMe campaign.

New Year, No Fear

In a few more hours it will be 2019. The year that I’m going to turn 60…when did that happen? I’m just grateful to still be here. The last few years have been kind of rough, but I’m still kicking.

I’m not making any resolutions this year. I’m just carrying on with the mantra I’ve been repeating to myself for the past few months: No Fear

I’ve taken a few leaps of faith in my lifetime, some of them during the past year. I gave up a lucrative job because I felt isolated working from home all the time, and I had the desire to get back out there and do massage. I was a little concerned about walking away from a regular guaranteed paycheck, but I’m getting along just fine. I also allowed myself to fall head over heels in love with someone new, and so far, that’s working out, too.

The thing is, fear creeps in when you don’t expect it. I’m not talking about fear of the things that go bump in the night…that happens when you live in an old house. I’m talking about insecurity-type fear. Fear of not being everything everybody expects me to be. Fear of not being a good enough partner, a good enough teacher, a good enough writer, a good enough musician, a good enough friend, a good enough human being…fear of just not being good enough, period.

I’m trying hard to let go of that, because I am the only one I have to face when I look in the mirror. The older I get, the more I realize that I am not obligated to live up to anybody else’s expectations of me, and maybe I’ve been too hard on myself, and take too many things personally. As someone dear to me who is gone used to say, “What you think of me is none of my business.”

I may never write a best-seller. I’ll keep playing music in local bars…I won’t ever play at the Coliseum. I might teach classes that attract 20 people instead of 200. But I realize that I’ve had the same core group of good friends for most of my life…a few of them since childhood, others for 3 or 4 decades, and some newer ones who think I’m worth their time, and money can’t buy that. I am blessed with someone who knows my shortcomings, and loves me in spite of them. I may not have everything I want,but I do have everything I need. And I’m good enough.

Happy New Year to one and all, Peace on Earth, and I wish you a 2019 with No Fear.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I have an old hand-written address book that I usually only get out for the purpose of sending Christmas cards to old friends and relatives that I don’t see very often. This week as I was doing that task, it was a wake-up call to see how many of them are dead…including many who are younger than I am. And a few whose cards have been returned “address unknown.” People who at one time were important to me and that I have fond memories of, who for whatever reason, I’ve lost touch with…they’re gone, but not forgotten. I hope they think of me occasionally, with the same good wishes for me that I have for them.

As I’m prone to do this time of year, I also remember some of my favorite Christmases from childhood. The guitar my mother got me with Green Stamps (only people of a certain age will know what that is) when I was nine. The year there was a big, heavy box under the tree with my name on it, from my brother Robert, that turned out to be a bottle of Scope mouthwash wrapped in about a hundred layers of newspaper. The year that I bought said brother an album he really wanted, only to find out on Christmas morning that he had carefully unwrapped it right after I put it under the tree and replaced it with an old album. The year I got a tiny grand piano that really played, which I loved, and which a neighbor kid sat on and destroyed. The year we got a mini-bike, which was one of my favorites. We just knew we were going to get one; my stepfather was working in  a motorcycle shop, and my brothers and I were just convinced we couldn’t possibly get anything but the mini-bike we wanted. Early on Christmas morning, we all went downstairs, and found a nice pile of loot under the Christmas tree, but alas, no mini-bike. We had been up for about an hour when I went to the bathroom, and there it was, with a big red bow on it. We woke up the neighborhood riding it in the yard at 6 am.

My favorite Christmas memories are of being at my grandparents’ house every year with all the cousins. We would all have our instruments and be playing music and singing to entertain everyone. And slipping outside to have a sip of the concoction my mother used to make that we all called “green god-a-mighty.” I don’t know what was in it, but I suspect it was moonshine made by one of my uncles, with frozen lime-aid in it. It was potent. My grandparents didn’t drink, or have alcohol in the house, so my mom left it in the car in a big cooler with some cups, and if my grandma ever knew why we all kept slipping outside and coming back in looking a little red in the face, she never said so.

People who lived through the Great Depression didn’t waste anything. I remember my grandmother very carefully unwrapping her gifts so she could save the paper and bows to be used again the next year. She would use it for years. When she grew so old she had to move out of her home, and we were cleaning it out, I found her recycled stacks of wrapping paper, folded neatly, and every single card that anyone had ever given her in a cabinet, in stacks tied neatly with strings. One of my prize possessions was a butterfly quilt that she made for me, made from the dresses that my mother had when she was a little girl, and the dresses had been made from flour sacks. Yes, young people, flour used to come in cloth sacks. I have already passed it down to my great-niece.

This week I’ve been baking some Christmas goodies, and using the cutting board and rolling pin that belonged to my grandmother. I get her tiny nativity set and a little red glass lamp out every year at Christmas. I remember all the gifts she gave to her grandchildren, which probably cost less than a dollar, and it seems like we all appreciated them more than any expensive gifts we might get today. I still have some of mine, and they sit on a bookshelf along with her picture and other mementos of her. If my house caught fire, they’d be the first thing I grabbed.

Earlier this year, my oldest brother was in a serious accident, and he’s lucky to still be here and be able to celebrate Christmas with us. I will always be grateful for the 25 Christmases I spent with Champ and with his family. We had a lot of good times, and survived a lot of hard times, and I will never forget them.

This year, I have been blessed with the love of a good man, and I am making new memories with him. I will be having Christmas with him and his family for the first time, and I’m looking forward to it. This coming Sunday, I will gather again with the cousins. We’ll eat and visit, and play and sing like we used to do at Granny’s house, and maybe slip out for a sip of moonshine. It reminds me that all the hoopla and stress and shopping surrounding the holidays isn’t important at all. The only important thing is being with family and loved ones, and being grateful for the gift of that, and it doesn’t come with a price tag or any wrapping. Merry Christmas to you, or whatever you celebrate, and I wish you joy and health and happiness.

A New Beginning

Almost every day, I listen to one of my favorite pieces of music while I’m driving in my car…it’s called A New Beginning, written by Ric DeLozier, a very talented musician I first saw perform about six months ago. I’ve been listening to the song ever since. It’s very uplifting to me. There is something wrong with the CD player in my car, and sometimes the CD just gets spontaneously sucked into the player and lands on that song. It always seems to happen when I need to be lifted out of some dark place I’m in <cue the Twilight Zone theme song>.

Ric DelozierThe first time I heard it, I had the thought that I was in the midst of a new beginning myself, one that I didn’t want or ask for. My husband died a year and a half ago, and I was forced to begin a new life, alone. The most mundane things hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to buy a step stool so I could reach the things in the top cabinet. Get out the ladder to change the lightbulb on the porch. Try to adjust to making coffee and cooking for just one person. Get used to the fact that there is no one here to talk to. Get used to being very deprived of human touch. Accept the fact that no one except the dogs would be glad to see me when I got home. I had a lot of meltdowns in the car.  As all who have been there know, grief ebbs and flows, and sometimes it knocks the crap out of you like a tidal wave when you least expect it.

I spent a year deliberately not making any big decisions. Once that year was up, I started to think about quitting my job and switching gears. For the past three and a half years, I have worked from home as the Massage Division Director of Soothing Touch. While some travel was involved, most of the time I got to spend at home with my husband while he was ill. It was good to be able to do that, and I wouldn’t trade one minute of the experience. But since he has been gone, I have been isolated. I felt like I needed to be out working in the world again, making human connections, and using the power of touch to make a difference in the way people feel. Another new beginning happened on August 1, when I hung out my shingle again as a massage therapist at my new business. It just felt like the right thing to do.

The autumn equinox happened three days ago…a new beginning of my favorite time of year. To the Celts, the equinox was known as Mabon, a time to celebrate the changing season, show gratitude for a bountiful harvest, and share our abundance. I do celebrate autumn; it’s my favorite time of year. I am in gratitude for many things: my family, and my family of selection, my good friends, my home, my ability to earn a living doing something I love to do, my travels, my music…too many things to name. I am grateful for every day, and every moment spent with those I love. For me, true abundance isn’t about how much money or how many things you have, it’s about how much love you have in your life and how much you share it. My cup is overflowing.

Some other new beginnings are  happening in my life, and I’m grateful for those: a new friend who is very special to me, new projects to work on, new goals to work towards, new places to go, new people to cross paths with, new songs to sing and new books to write, and new experiences to learn from. New beginnings are sometimes born of grief, or tragedy, or personal trials that test your strength to the very core, and rising up out of it.

I get a new beginning every day, and I don’t want to waste it…I want to get every drop out of it. A few months ago, I adopted the mantra of NO FEAR. I will live and love life to the fullest and be grateful for each new experience. I will seize the day. I will seize the moment.  I will remember the past and honor what has happened, but I won’t live in it. I won’t be afraid to tell people how I really feel, or love like there’s no tomorrow–because there is only the present, and that’s where new beginnings appear. I repeat the old saying, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, and that’s why they call it the present.” Here’s to no fear, and new beginnings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion: Cancer and Massage

Note: A revision was made to this blog 06/02/18 after Tracy Walton contacted me about leaving out the second part of her critique. The link to it is below. 

I feel compelled to offer my own opinion of the recent hullabaloo regarding a difference of opinion between Dr. Jeffrey Cullers and Dr. Ross Turchaninov and Tracy Walton about Oncology Massage. I have read the initial article put forth by Cullers and Turchaninov, the Wang et al study, the other research articles that were quoted by Cullers and Turchaninov, the initial response from Walton, and the second round, and feel compelled to comment. I have been a massage therapist, author, and educator for almost 20 years myself. My late husband was also a licensed massage therapist as well as a cancer patient, and this subject is dear to my heart.

For those who are unfamiliar, here are the links:


The original article by Dr. Jeffrey M. Cullers and Dr. Ross Turchaninov, Massage Therapy in Cases of a Newly Diagnosed Cancer

 

The critique from Tracy Walton, which appeared in Massage Today, Does Massage Spread Cancer

 

The second article from Tracy Walton, which appeared in Massage Today, Can Massage Spread Cancer in the Newly Diagnosed?

Another article from Walton,  Choosing Our Words Wisely…Language Matters which appeared in Massage Today

 

The original study from Wang et al, Manipulation Therapy Prior to Diagnosis Induced Primary Osteosarcoma Metastasis—From Clinical to Basic Research

 
First of all, Culler’s and Turchaninov’s  display of condescension towards Tracy Walton, and the standards of practice of the S4OM in general, is evident in their second response, “people are busy, but we are forced to address this issue so here we go again” attitude…it seems that neither thinks anyone should have dared to challenge them or offer any response.

Second, as every scientist including Cullers and Turchaninov are aware, or even a layperson with a basic knowledge of research (I fall into the latter category) knows, one research study does not an accepted scientific theory make. Research is meant to be replicated. If there was any subsequent replication of this study, I was unable to find it, and welcome anyone who is able to point to the replication of this one. I do not imply, nor does Walton, that Wang et al’s study does not have any value. She never said any such thing; she in fact referred to it as “an unusual and important contribution to discussion.” What she did say is that some important omissions existed in the paper: a lack of reporting of the timing of manipulation therapies prior to the diagnosis of cancer, and that the original study did not mention specific body areas that were massaged, pressure used, or joints moved–all valid points.

Third, the attack on Walton’s ethics is absurd. Yes, we are obligated to first do no harm, but due to the omissions in the original study by Wang et al mentioned by Walton , this is not even up for debate, although Cullers and Turchaninov have chosen to imply that it is. There is simply nothing in the study to indicate when a person had received massage prior to being diagnosed with cancer. That could be construed to mean that anyone who ever gets up in the morning with musculoskeletal pain and seeks a massage for relief better beware, because banish the thought, they might have bone cancer and that could affect their prognosis years down the line.

Simply put, the study was lacking some very important information, and to jump from that to accusations of unethical behavior on the part of Walton or any other massage therapist is unprofessional and beyond the pale. The statement that if there is even a 1% chance that MT could cause metastasis in a cancer patient between diagnosis and treatment, that is cause not to give a massage doesn’t ring true. None of us are guaranteed the next breath, and there is in all likelihood a 1% chance that any client could have a heart attack  and die on the table. Does that mean we shouldn’t give anyone a massage? No. It’s a big jump that  just doesn’t add up.

The S4OM has made invaluable contributions to the education and practice of massage therapy for cancer patients, as has Tracy Walton. That is not to minimize any contributions made by Cullers and Turchaninov, nor those of Dr. Wang. The organization does not feel that this one study from Wang et al, nor the subsequent discussion that ensued between Walton and Cullers/Turchaninov, warrants any change in their current standards of practice. Walton stated that the authors brought up interesting points, but they do not add up to a change in OMT practice. I feel confident that Walton and the S4OM do everything they can to keep up with current research and that whenever a change in their standards of practice are actually warranted, they will be implemented.

Old Things

It’s Christmas, the first one since my husband died in May of this year. As I sit here with only my dogs for company, I look around my home, and I find comfort. My house is filled with things from the past. My grandmother’s tiny nativity set. Her old pie safe, which is one of my prized possessions, and was a gift to her in 1926 when she married. Her old butter churn sits by the stove. Her old treadle sewing machine serves as my nightstand. The big dough bowl that belonged to her mother, who died when I was a child, holds part of my rock collection. My dining room suite is the first nice thing my parents bought some 50 years ago, and it was old when they got it. The pie safe and the china cabinet is filled with my Depression glass, most of which was inherited from both grandmothers, and a set of ruby glass gifted to me by an old friend who has passed. My coffee table is an old cedar chest gifted to me when I was 12 by a great-aunt and uncle who are long gone. On a shelf is the baby plate and cup that belonged to my dad, various pieces of Depression glass from my aunt and uncle who have passed on, and a few pieces of milk glass and carnival glass from my husband’s family. On the stove is my grandmother’s cast iron frying pan, which I use every day. On the wall is a dulcimer made in 1920, gifted to me by another uncle who is gone. A guitar that was gifted to me by a dying friend 40 years ago sits on a stand.

I feel connected to generations of ancestors who had a much harder life than I’ve had. My mother, who will be 79 next month, was raised dirt-poor and picked cotton for 25 cents a bale to earn money. My grandparents were share-cropping farmers and raised everything they ate. They worked from sunup to sundown and didn’t even know they were poor. They didn’t really have anything to judge that by. I plainly recall the day they got indoor plumbing in their house. They never owned a car and walked everywhere. My grandpa never owned a tractor. He plowed with a mule. They were happy, kind, and generous people.

I think of my husband and the 25 Christmases we had together, and I miss him. In the corner of the bedroom is a chair made by his grandfather. His motorcycle helmet sits on it. All around the house are things he built for me for Christmas presents. One year, a closet. One year, the porch. Bookshelves. Cabinets. His loving spirit is in every board, every nail.

As I sit here, the ghosts of Christmas pasts are visiting. I think of the cousins all sitting around the wood stove at my grandparent’s house, playing and singing. I think of sneaking out to the barn to have a sip of moonshine. I think of my grandmother’s coconut cake and country ham and biscuits. I remember the way she would very carefully unwrap her gifts so she could use the paper and ribbons the next year. I think of how many meals my grandmother cooked in that frying pan. I think of my grandmother sewing my mother’s dresses, made from flour sacks, on that old sewing machine. I light her old kerosene lamp and think of her sewing or reading the Bible by that light, as they didn’t have any electricity until after 1940. I think of my husband sitting in that chair when he was a little boy.

I love my old things. They remind me of where I came from, and that I can be proud that I came from such good people. They remind me that I was greatly loved by a good and wonderful man, a gift that money can never buy.

I wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours, and tidings of comfort and joy.

Autumn Leaves

This is my favorite time of year in North Carolina. As I listen to Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves, they are indeed falling. The sky is that peculiar intense shade of azure that happens this time of the year; the mornings are crisp and the days are still warm…today is the first day there was a freeze at my house.

I am easing into the sixth month since my husband died. It’s been a huge adjustment. I miss him all the time. We were together for 25 years, and we had something together that everyone should be lucky enough to have. This time of the year, we would always take a Sunday ride up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the changing leaves. I let that pass this year; most of the color has already come and gone. I’ve been thinking about the cycle of renewal that represents. Those leaves swirl in the wind and fall to the ground, and come spring, the new growth begins again. Kind of like me. I’ve fallen as far as I can go.  But I have to look ahead and think about the new growth to come.

I’ve had to do things I’m not used to doing, like sleeping by myself. Making coffee and cooking for one. Going to the home improvement store and navigating the maze of building supplies for some of the things that need doing around the house. Climbing a ladder. Using a drill. Killing a big spider. Getting a snake off the porch. Moving heavy furniture. Painting. Being my own roadie and designated driver. There’s nobody else here to do it. I depended on him for a lot of years (and in fairness, he could depend on me for many things). But now I have to depend on myself.

I’ve been keeping myself very busy. I finally finished my 12th book, which has been three years in the making, and it will be out sometime this week. I already have another in progress, one that I’m helping a friend of mine with. In addition to working, which I am fortunate enough to get to do at home, every day I have some kind of project at the house, a home improvement, a necessary repair, cleaning and clearing, anything to keep myself occupied so I don’t just lie here wallowing in misery and loneliness. I’m blessed with family and good friends who have sustained me. My dogs are great company. I’m playing in two bands and going to jam sessions. I still feel funny going places by myself that Champ would have accompanied me to, but I know he wouldn’t want me to hide in the house and stop living. He would want me to do just what I am doing: keep putting one foot in front of the other. Find things to laugh at. Remember the good times. Be grateful for the time we had together, and be grateful he’s not suffering anymore.

And I miss you, most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.