If you follow me on Facebook, you have seen my macro and micro posts about going back to school.  In the course of world events, I understand this is completely small and irrelevant.  However, it is HUGE for me.  I am 53, have not been in college since the 1980’s.  When my family moved to California, I wanted to find a similar position to that which I left; working with people who have cancer and survivors.  The hospital environment is a comfortable place for me, and I spend a lot of time, effort and money training at a very high level of proficiency.  At every turn, I was asked, “So what’s your degree in?”  I was flabbergasted.  The first time that question was asked, I stumbled through a list of my massage accomplishments and training.  “But that’s vocational training.”  So after thousands of dollars, twenty years of practice in the most prestigious University on the planet, and at a world renowned hospital, that wasn’t enough?  I guess not.

So I went back to school.  I had to start at Community college, because it had been so long.  A short bit of background, I started in Art School, worked for a number of years trying to figure out what I wanted to do.  When others were getting their advanced degrees I was fighting cancer.  Then I had to work some more to pay off all the bills.  I couldn’t even fathom adding more bills to my already heavy load.  Massage answered so many prayers at the time–2 years of school, good income possibilities, and it was a helping profession.  And I wouldn’t have to sit at a desk taking orders from other people.  It has been very, very good to me.

Math has kept me from moving ahead academically since 3rd grade.  I didn’t understand Algebra, I couldn’t figure out why all the numbers kept jumping around on the page.  Long division was a mystery.  Fractions didn’t make sense.  I was pushed along until High School when I didn’t really have to take any more math.  But, I still didn’t know how to long divide.  I took remedial math, which also taught the basics of accounting.  A line of numbers on a page danced and jigged in all sorts of directions still, but I got through it and finally learned that you had to multiply, add and subtract to long divide.

In the admissions office taking the placement tests, I wasn’t surprised to find out I had to go back to more remedial math.  So be it, I would take the classes one at a time, and take them up on the tutoring they had available.  I was the oldest person in the class, besides the instructor, and got used to keeping to myself and listening to the youthful voices around me.  They were/are amazing people.  Former vets coming to school on the GI bill after doing 2-3-4 terms in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Young mothers, hopeful 20 somethings that didn’t do well in High School and were trying to make up for lost time.  We struggled together, I learned how to navigate with them, and not be judgmental.  In office hours with my instructor, we were going over a complex line of algebraic notation, and he asked if I’d ever been tested for dyslexia.  It wasn’t a known thing as much when I was in school, but I was game to try anything that might help.

After getting the results it was the kind of shock that you know in your heart isn’t such a shock.  Dyscalcula is a more rare form of dyslexia, where the person has trouble with “number sense”; knowing 7 means 7 things, difficulty counting on your fingers (I never feel my ring finger, and have to start over again), having trouble doing strings of functions.  I started getting help, got a tutor, learned strategies for me to “see” the numbers.  Math should have been done in 3 quarters, it took me 2 years.  I failed advanced Algebra the first time, but the second time got an instructor whose daughter had dyscalcula and he took the extra time with me to explain the finer points of logorithms and the like.

Then it was on to Statistics.  This particular requirement kept me back from doing any other further higher education classes for decades.  I worried so much about the math, thought that it was beyond me, and so I told myself to just keep focusing on massage excellence.  When it finally came time to do the class, I had a panic attack outside the classroom the first day.  Luckily for me, my instructor was an empathetic goddess angel, who played meditative music before class started.  The first assignment was half the class going outside, half the class staying to meditate for 5 minutes and checking heart rate.  We took the average of that for each group and did a comparison.  THIS I understood!  This was my world!  And it made sense to me.  The math was hard.  I failed all the exams.  But I worked my tail off, did every bit of extra credit I could.  I got a tutor.  My husband talked me through some of the more difficult to understand concepts.  I read research papers to practice figuring out what the mean, mode, and mu were.  Area of significance started applying itself to other aspects of my day to day.  And I passed.  Today, I celebrate MY mathmetician self, that isn’t like everyone else’s.  I’m done with Math in college courses, but now it’s more of a part of my everyday.  I may even tutor others, but for now, I’m celebrating the accomplishment and finally able to move on.

Dear Barilla Pasta.

, “For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company,” he told Italian radio on Wednesday evening. “I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”

Asked what effect he thought his attitude would have on gay consumers of pasta, Barilla said: “Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don’t like it and they don’t like what we say they will … eat another.”

So here’s the deal, I happen to be Italian and as a typical Italian mother, I cook plenty of pasta for my growing boys. But what kind of mother would I be if I bought your product that would mean I agreed with exclusionary practices against part of the population because of their gender preference.  By putting money in your pocket with my purchases, that would mean I agree with this practice and that would make me a bad parent.  And that, Mr. Barilla, is something I’m just not going to be if I can help it.  My children’s gender preference seems to be fairly established, but what if it weren’t?  What if one of my children were gay?  By supporting your company, that would mean I was agreeing that he didn’t come from a “classic” family.  Well, we happen to have plenty of class.

In boycotting your product from now on, we are saying to our children that families come in all sizes shapes, colors, and genders.  Our own family is diverse, full of gay and straight, friends who are close enough to us that we call them family who are a glorious mix of gay and straight. We have tried to set an example about character of a person.  We have taught them to judge someone by their character and their actions.  Your company is now setting a bad example, your character is tarnished, and I do not agree with your actions.  I will enjoy a different kind of pasta, and all of our friends, family, near and dear who will eat at my table will know I love them and want to nourish them no matter who they love.  That’s what being family means.

Today, someone I greatly admire posted a link to one of their educational seminars.  The subject was on a technique done first thing on every client (this was the title).  I thought, hey!  I can learn something new with my morning cup o’tea, and enhance my practice that much more.  I clicked on the link, and it was a film of probably one of their continuing education classes somewhere in the country.  The first thing the person said was how they break the rules all the time–to loooove your clients, share stuff about yourself, have pictures of your family, ask about their family, make that connection, etc etc.  The person took the time also to say how this can benefit a MT’s practice by suggesting that this connection will get people to come back to you because you care about them.  LOoooooooove them.

I do looooooove my clients.  Really, I care about them, want them to feel better, don’t want them to worry if they haven’t shaved their legs, have gained or lost a few pounds, have a bad hair day, or a good one and they don’t want me messing it up.  I ask about their lives, how they feel, how stress in their lives makes them feel in their bodies, sure.  All the time.  But, do I share that much about myself with them?  No.  Do I have pictures of my family in my office?  One nice one from a river rafting experience on the Snake River in Idaho.  But do I share with my cancer patient clients or survivors that I’m a survivor?  No.  Well, yes I do, sometimes.  But only if it’s useful and of help to the person in that moment.  And then, I turn it back to them.  

I so disagreed with this instructor and told them so.  One of the highest scoring “don’ts” listed by clients is a talkative massage therapist.  I too have been on the table with someone who wants to tell me about what’s happening with them.  I love my dentist, she’s really and truly a good dentist, but an appointment with her includes that she has a new boyfriend, she’s following this new diet, she’s taken up yoga, etc.  Appointments end up being 2-3 hrs. instead of 1.  I just wanted my teeth cleaned, thank you. 

Let’s just think about the kinds of things we share about our private life and think this question, “Does it serve the client somehow to reach the goals in coming to see me?”  If you can’t answer that question, you’re talking and sharing too much.  Many clients ask us these questions, how’s your life, hows business, have you seen that movie, etc.  I break the rules in that there are some people who relax by talking.  Maybe I’m the only person who they’ve talked to in weeks.  I let them talk and usually they do drift off into quiet.  I just ride the wave.  Who am I to tell them how to spend their hour of bliss with me?  If I feel like it’s out of nervousness, I’ll say, “Don’t worry about talking, if you want to it’s Ok, but it’s also OK not to.”  They have the choice and usually they do quiet down. 

When someone asks me about the photo of my family, I say, “Yes!  We had a blast doing that.  Have you ever been on an excursion like that?  What kind of exercise makes you happy?”  

Yesterday, I had an experience that many cancer survivors would yawn at, and say, “Yeah, yeah, par for the course, bucko.”  Because I am missing some parts, my immune system has it’s own ideas about what it can and cannot handle.  I do take very good care of it, eat a colorful diet, exercise every day, etc.  A cadre of acupuncturists, massage therapists, and other types of integrative healing help me keep it together too.  But, every once in awhile, my body reminds me, “Hey!  I have been trying to speak to you and YOU are not listening!”  and maybe I’m distracted, maybe I’m stressed, maybe it’s just maybe and the immune system throws up her beautiful hands and says, “I’m done with you!  Here, you deal with this now!” in a protracted snit.

So, in full snit, I ended up in the emergency room of my local hospital with a simple infection in my foot that had turned itself into a radical motorcycle cavalcade in low rider speed up my leg.  The fact that the nearby hospital is Stanford makes me a lucky duck indeed.  They’re top notch, right?  And before wandering eyes of those who read this dull towards the usual rant about how modern medicine isn’t very modern, or that they are awful, expensive, etc etc. don’t give up on me here yet.  Let’s leave that for another rant, shall we?

In fact, my experience wasn’t that bad.  I had to again teach them about what my missing parts meant for this infection.  I had to advocate for why I was there, what my body does and what I needed.  Really, I just needed them to either IV me what I needed or write out a scrip.  It has happened before, THANKFULLY not that often, and I know the drill.  I was not an emergency per se, so I ended up waiting.  But here’s the good part–when it was my turn, the doc actually looked me in the eyes, greeted me and did a visual scan of my issue first.  Glancing at my file quickly, she asked me to tell her the relevant parts of my history.  She LISTENED.  As she did other diagnostics we talked about Jerome Groopman’s (Harvard Medical guy, frequent columnist for New Yorker Mag, excellent writer) book, “How Doctor’s Think.”  Mostly he says, they make too many quick assumptions.  She said she had taken his advice to heart and it had improved her skills, and helped her enjoy what she did in her medical practice more.  We talked more and she took care of my issue pretty quickly, telling me her best advice was to go home, relax and let my family treat me like a queen.

How helpful would a book titled, “How Integrative Therapists Think” be to the allopathic world?  Imagine an acupuncturist or other TCM practitioner coming into the emergency room booth to do their diagnostics, “Her liver is compromised, and she has a lot of damp in her digestive area.  Kidneys need boosting, and these immune points need stimulation.”  Or for musculoskeletal issues, the massage therapist would come in and maybe do a little magic.  How much money would that save in muscle relaxants?  What if there was a Reiki circle on call to help with trauma cases?  I’d like to see that happen in my lifetime.

In the meantime, I’m trying to be treated like a queen, (those who know me well understand that I don’t stop moving for nuthin’, so this is very hard) soothing my immune system with gentle talk and quiet surroundings, spending time in my yard noticing what’s blooming and what decided to survive the California winter in my herb pots.  That’s healing medicine too, and maybe the best scrip of all.

I’m late in the blog posting challenge (sorry Kelli Wise!) but, really, I have a good excuse.  I’ve been attending the Oncology Massage Symposium at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Truly a wonderful group of people who are dedicated to the art of healing.  Doctors, acupuncturists, music therapists, massage therapists all work together to give the best care and best outcomes for people who are going through cancer treatment.

I was actually crashing a party.  This was supposed to be for medical professionals and, funny, I think of myself as a medical professional.  Apparently, even in the integrative world, massage therapists et al, are not considered medical professionals.  They didn’t kick me out.  Bless them, they have a whole other conference in JULY (just imagine Texas in July) for MTs, Acup., et al.  There were about 150-170 participants, with 2 massage therapists, and 3 acupuncturists, 1 of whom was a nurse.  It gave me great insight on research data supporting integrative medicine, the science behind music therapy, and yet, how much work we all still have to do.

I was rather shocked to hear some of the things said from “integrative oncologists.” I put quotes here because their words belied all the other smoke coming out of their mouths about being inclusive.  The next few (rants)Posts will be about such observations and the beginnings of a plan.

For me, calling us anything other than allied health professionals gives us a status of “other”.  Alternative, complementary, integrative, those people over there doing that stuff vs. us–is demeaning to our work.  I’m not saying I’m a doc, or a nurse, or anything outside my scope of practice.  But I am a well trained professional.  Other medical professionals need to learn what I do just as I learned what they do, to appropriately refer a patient.

Sometimes our work is referred when everything else has failed.  “OK we tried what we know, it didn’t work, go do that.  It won’t hurt, but it won’t help, and maybe you’ll feel good,” seems to be the pervasive attitude.  However, to their credit, MD Anderson Integrative Medicine Center, The Osher Center in San Francisco, and The Zakim Center at the Dana Farber, are exactly what every single hospital in America needs to have.

Even their Integrative Medicine Center (which is just beautiful by the way) is way the heck over hill and dale far away from where oncology patients are treated.  Now, I know the practitioners go into the infusion areas, and do work bedside.  And the whole staff does amazing work, with great classes–free! to anyone who has or is touched by cancer.  I felt honored to meet them, and fully appreciate the work they do with the challenges they have.  But here’s the rub.  They see about 1000 patients a year.  They have about 100,000 people coming in for treatment.  In other facilities, the reports of number differentials were the same.  They are growing, they are working on increasing those numbers, and let’s face it, every revolution starts with just one thing, right?

In the immortal words of Ghandi, be the change you want to see in the world.  I’m thinking there might be some merit in the title “Clinical Massage Therapist.”  Now before y’all jump all over me for it, think about how it would help define to a medical professional someone who has training in hospital protocals, high level of education, etc.   As in, a doctorate in massage, or acup. or whathaveyou.  Not that we would be Dr. Massage therapist, but it would help other allied health professionals differentiate between us.  Some have an idea of massage therapists being the unkempt, woo woo, wind chime hugging, unicorns over the rainbow.  Or sports guy named Sven in stripe down the side track pants and bulging muscles under a polo there to work you over.  There’s merit to Sven and Rainbow’s work, and we do need to keep thinking and working differently.  That’s what innovation is all about.  We don’t fit in a box, and that’s WHY our work has value.  People usually don’t fit in a box either.  Despite all the training, pompetous, and technical innovations, people still die of horrible diseases.  And sometimes, Rainbow is the one sitting with the dying holding their hand peacefully as they do so.

The first thing I’d like to do is to do away with every title that puts us outside the arena, tailgating from the back of the bus straining our necks to see in.  I’m a massage professional in the allied health field.  I do clinical oncology massage.  Sometimes, I’m a massage professional in the allied health field, as I do Reiki, shamanistic visionary work, or plain ole’ vanilla feel good effleuragy massage with nice smelling stuff.  And other times, I’m a massage professional in the allied health field measuring a lymphedemetous arm before I do decongestive therapies, and lymphofascial scar work.  I’m a massage professional in the allied health field in all of these modalities, but I’m a professional in every single one of them.

How does an idea become reality?  Sure, I could give bullet points on how:

*  Start making a pro and con list

*  Research if there’s another idea just like this already out there

*  Keep thinking about the crazy idea and start adding details

All of these can work, and I’d advise you, as a crazy idea person, to go ahead and do those things.  What bringing this idea into fruition really takes is fearlessness.  How many of us have that voice (usually, it’s not your voice but someone else’s) telling you that this idea is truly crazy.  That you will fail.  That following crazy ideas is a waste of your time and others.

Ever played “whack-a-mole”?  For those who have not, there’s a board, with holes in it, and a hammer for you to wield.  Once you’ve put in the tokens, “moles” pop up from the holes, and your job is to whack them.  If you hit one, it’s a point.  So do are you getting where I’m going here?  When you get those voices in your head, that are the naysayers, and buzzkills, I invite you to play some whack a mole.  It’s fun, it really does work our your aggravations, and with those tickets that spit out of the machine, you get to buy a plastic snake, or a glow worm bracelet.  Awesome.

whackamole

OK!  So what I’m suggesting is to quell the negativity and take the first step.  Even writing down a one page business plan is taking a big step.  And what can that look like?  Here’s my idea for the whack a mole massage business:

OBJECTIVE: To massage the poor moles who have been whacked by the hammer.

VISION STATEMENT: Massage for underserved moles can improve sustainability of holes in the ground creating more love in the envirnoment.

THING 1.  Find  small office near the arcade to start building a following of whacked moles.

THING 2.  Market among the mole community by providing free chair massage one day a week for whacked moles.

THING 3.  Give free talks before the arcade opens for the public on mole sustainability, cruelty free mole whacking, and redirection to non-mole whacking games such as Skee ball.  Give out free Skee ball tickets and mole snacks.

NEAR FUTURE IDEA 1: Partner with other arcades for mole sustainability action plans and networking for whacked mole support groups.  Give free chair massage at said support groups.  Bring mole snacks.

IDEA 2: Create webinar on mole chair massage ideas and techniques.  Post on You Tube and advertise on my “Whack A Mole” facebook page.

IDEA 3: Twitter for 1 month about Whack a Mole sustainability ideas.  Visit Mole Snack Emporiums and give free chair massage at specific Whack a Mole events at Mole Snack Emporium.

FAR FUTURE IDEA: Create a network of therapists who specialize in Whack A Mole techniques and market to Arcade Company as a service to the moles.

This is a typical framework for a beginning business plan, and yes, I’m trying to make you laugh with the Whack a Mole reference, but in reality, I’ve used this technique (one page business plan, not whack a mole) many times to put on paper my wacky (whack-y?) ideas.  I use it as a visionary technique, and it helps me plan short and long term if an idea is sustainable.  I invite you to do the same; hammer out your ideas, and start whacking my friends!

The “thriving survival” center is shifting from an impassioned idea to a reality.  My business partner should be finishing up his acupuncture studies and passing his exams.  (whoo hoo!  Everyone send Daniel Fonte some good Reiki energy!)  So what about the money honey?  What about the space? On Thursday, I was in a client’s home doing massage on their wonderful family members.  This is almost a weekly thing now as the holidays and stress levels gear up.  I met the patriarch for the first time and he was a talker.  Contrary to all our massage training, sometimes you gotta break the rules and let people talk if that’s what they need.  Go ahead and argue with me about it.  Occasionally it’s just nervous energy that needs to wear itself out.  Honestly I try not to contribute, and open the space for them to say what they have to say.  To me, that’s honoring their healing process too.  (oooh, future blog post about breaking some of the ‘rules’?)

My client wanted to know about my training, length of, type, where I’d come from in the work–so I told him.  His next question, “So you did all that back East, what are you going to do here for us in California?”  Wow.  OK, my friend, here it comes.  I briefly told him about my center.  Therapeutic relationships right?  Don’t talk about yourself, turn it back toward your client.  His response?  “Oh, I can help you with that you know.  I”m a blah blah blah, and I am on the blah blah committee, you need to know this person.  After the massage let’s take a few moments to talk.”  And I was gobsmacked once again, with this marketing tip: tell everyone everywhere what you plan to do and sometimes the Universe throws you back a nice piece of squid bait.  C’mere, follow this line and you’ll get a fish.

Fish number 2.  I’m in my doctor’s office.  Heart stuff is plaguing me at the moment.  Part of being a long term survivor is all the aftermath crap we have to deal with depending on when we were treated.  I was treated in the bad old days when they fried you to a crisp like a spaghetti western, “shoot ’em up and see who’s left standing”.  What’s standing now is a lot of scar tissue where there should be smooth gliding.  My doc is very interested in integrative medicine, and we always chat in allopathic and integrative languages.  “We have space in this office you know, and we’re looking to add integrative medicine.  Would you be interested in talking to us about it?”  Why, yes I would!

This morning’s encouragement is to chat everyone up.  Tell the entire Universe you inhabit about your plans.  Make it a game.  Every encounter you have with someone, casually mention you’re a massage therapist, what your plans are, what direction you’re going in.  You just never know which number is going to hit the lottery.  For me this includes the pharmacist at the drug store drive-thru window, (plantar fascitis, booked for next week), one of my classmates (home visit after December for lymphatic), someone I met in the craft store (fellow knitter who needs scar work).  Being sociable isn’t everyone’s forte.  Being an uber marketer should be.