Massaging the terminally ill patients
Published on: Sunday, January 19, 2020
By: Lorena Binisol
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People who suffer chronic illnesses can be massaged with different techniques.
AN expert on “touch through massage” for palliative patients was in the State Capital for the fourth time recently to impart her skills. 

Wendy Leach conducted a five-day Massage & Aromatherapy Workshop which was conducted at the Palliative Care Centre. 

She first visited the State on the invitation of its founder, the late Datuk Dr Ranjit Mathew Oommen, some 20 years ago.

She paid tribute to the man who was responsible for introducing her to PCA. 

“If he hadn’t read the article I wrote, the invitation would never have come and the relationship between me and PCA would never have been realised. There was a special bond between us,” said Wendy.

She first set foot on Sabah in 2002 when she was 38 and again in 2004, 2006 and recently.

Wendy, 55, notes her effort in imparting the knowledge and sharing her skills to members had bloomed and become fruitful and meaningful. She was indeed touched by the gesture for appreciating her efforts.

She especially taught about how to apply the technique of massaging to people who are diagnosed with chronic illnesses or those who are in their “end-of-life” period.

“It is so important to give that ‘touch’ through massage as the patients feel it is the best time of her or his life during the moment. A simple touch during the massaging process could create a wholesome of happiness especially to people facing “end-of-life” moment,” she said.

She said humans are the most complex and highly functioning. Every cell works together with a purpose.

“It is no coincidence that our skin, the largest organ in our bodies, is connected to thousands of nerves that give us the ability to recognise touch.

“Touch is the first sense being developed and the process begins before we are even born,” she said.

During the workshop, members were taught the proper techniques of massages to cater to different patients who are conditioned with their illnesses and those who are in the “end-of-life” stages.

She emphasised on the importance of touch as it gives a huge impact to the person who receives it.

“Massage does not just work out kinks and soothe sore muscles.  It is way more than just that. It can help reduce stress, communicate better – whether we are giving or getting a massage. And it is a two-way street.


Showing the right way of massaging techniques. 

The person giving a massage is receiving just as much contact and non-verbal signals.  This interaction can increase trust and feelings of security,” she lamented.

On why there was a 13-year gap on her return to Sabah from 2006 to 2019, Wendy explained that during those period she had her services offered to bigger organisations in England administering Dementia patients, a number of jobs managing nurses, therapists and coordinating 18 homes in and around London.

“That was the time I moved about venturing into many other fields but still in connection to my vocation. I attended to individuals in their respective homes, caring for them, spending quality times with them,” she said.

Her scope of works were mainly seeing people in the community privately for massage. Teach carers, nurses how to care properly for people when they need to be cared in their own home. Her passion grew into caring for those suffering with dementia and “end-of-life”.


Combining different types of oil would give different effects. 

Later, she moved into education and introduced massage therapy in the subjects.  Over the years, she continued growing her knowledge further which included studying thoroughly on the various types of essential oils.

“In PCA, the difference we bring to the volunteers about massage is that it is aromatherapy, where we have to acknowledge that people we are dealing with have a life limiting illnesses, this means that their life is cut shorter than yours or mine. 

“Because they have a condition that causes their body not to function as well as they should function,they might have cancer, heart failure, tumour somewhere else, so their life expectancy is shorter. 

Therefore, their physical function is not as good as somebody who is well, and their organs are compromising different ways.

The application for massaging is definitely different.”

The approach to the massage is so much gentler and for a short period of time, as compared to the ones usually applied to people who are well.


The right application of oil is also very important to the patients. 

Even the touch needs to be focused with intention.  

She said it is important for the therapist to fully give whole attention and being present with the person at that particular time.

“During the massage process, it is really stepping in to the patient’s world, feel the patient, empathise with the patient and just be there with the patient.

“While carrying your task, you are treating them with compassion, kindness, gentle touch, being there with their ‘journey’ with them,” she explained.

She further stressed that using certain types of touch, with techniques and different strokes is very reassuring, very relaxing and each has its own therapeutic values and when combine with specific essential oil especially for the people with illnesses, it can soothe and calm them down.

“Some patients can be multitude of medications, so we have to choose with right oils. It helps with symptom control, help them to relax, help with sleeplessness, so when they relax, it reduces their tension in their body.”

She recalled 20 years ago, in the early 2000 when she was working with hospice in the UK, she was just beginning to introduce massage, where at that time, and it wasn’t widely known yet.

“Today, this technique is much more popular in England now.  It is introduced to people what we term as long term condition or chronic condition, those fall under the umbrella of hospice or the palliative care or fall under the support group – Parkinson group, cardiac group, and they can have easy access to more freely on the complimentary therapy, because it is proven to help them to relax, reduce tensions in their body, to help them to sleep, reduce pain and headache and stress and anxiety.  

“If we can remove all these things from the people who are suffering from their condition, then they get better quality of life,” she said.


PCA volunteers with their certificates of attendance.

She said those who have compromised health issues, the bodies are compromised by different condition; they cannot tolerate full body massage if it is too long.  

Therefore, it is not necessary to have longer period of massage, a short one like 15 minutes would be good and only on certain areas such as, hand massage, foot massage, shoulder massage, neck massage, facial massage, or back massage.

“But in essence, it is all about the touch. Touching and communicating through the right level of touch and giving that person enough time to just being relaxed and space for a little chat, be touched in a compassionate ways, to make them feel that they still belong in this life.”

Wendy actively focuses a lot about serving people, being therapist, educator, tutor and a great listener.

Over the years of services, she recognised that massage is more than just a task; it is a way of communicating with people who are conditioned with their illnesses.

“We know that from research done, massage is a way of communication in much deeper level.  There are emotions involved. There are a lot of ‘silent’ communications involved.

“Verbal communication is seven percent, and the rest of communication is through facial expression, body language, and when we become ill, we can’t find the words to represent how we feel.

“When we are so anxious, worried, emotionally trapped by diagnosis that we had, it becomes so difficult to express.

Therefore, ‘touch’ is an extension from our heart, and our heart is where we show our compassion. Some people who maybe not able to communicate at all due to their condition, for them, the touch that they receive becomes very meaningful.”

She studied about essential oils, which compliment well with therapy massage.  She, however, recommends using the organic ones as they are pesticide-free.

“For example, citrus range, let’s group them into a few categories. Lemon, orange, grapefruits are citrus and each has its own important properties, healing properties.  

“They are known for having anti-bacterial, anti-viral and a natural anti-septic.

Just look at the plants, the lime tree produces the fruits that have seeds in it, meaning it can re-generate. It produces natural oils within the fruits.”

Another group is floral range like lavender, rose, they produce good oils too.  They are good for hormonal imbalance, as it has natural hormone exist in the plants.  

The oil can be applied to the skin through massage, vapour, soap, shampoo, conditioner or cream.

She also made a few combinations of oils and demonstration for the members to try on.

At the end of the five-day course, members got their certificates of attendance. They learned about techniques of strokes, they were given manuals and video as references and allow them to recap whenever and wherever they need to. 


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