Am I now a Cancer Untouchable?
Having not managed a ‘getaway’, I decided to mark summer’s end by splashing out on a spa break. The sister was enlisted as ‘spa companion’. The Summer Girly Escape Pamper Break package was settled upon. Two nights’ B&B, dinner and the pièce de la résistance: the Pamper, including a ‘relaxing tailored back, neck and shoulder massage’. (I love the word ‘tailored’ there. A reassuring hint that if you have shoulders like a rugby prop, arms like Twiglets and a back as humpy as Croagh Patrick, their spa professionals won’t be balking? Mine balked.) Plus an ‘award-winning’ facial (who hands out such awards? The Facials Marketing Board? Who cares? I just wanted someone to rub smelly stuff on me for a while — not that that happened…) This was to be followed by a Lucky Legs treatment ‘to revive tired legs and de-puff swollen hard-working feet’ (my legs weren’t so lucky). ‘Conclude with a Glorious Feet colour pedicure,’ the description promised. Needless to say, mine remained the colour God intended.
However, it started well. We laughed across Ireland in my sister’s ancient Micra, making up jokes for The Nualas. (Sample gag: no surprise Bradley Manning now wants to be known as a woman, seeing as he couldn’t keep a secret.) Given our carefully scheduled itinerary, 20 minutes after check-in we were in our spa robes and slippers, sitting in a waiting area whose décor and piped music screamed, RELAX RIGHT NOW! We filled out a beauty/medical questionnaire. My sister’s therapist came and whisked her away. I waited. And waited.
Twenty minutes after the appointed time, a therapist took me through to a small room that screamed, THIS IS WHERE YOU SHALL BE PAMPERED. ‘I see from your form you had cancer?’ the therapist said. When she established that it hadn’t been a full two years since the end of treatment, she said, ‘Sorry, I can’t touch you.’ ‘What, you can’t do back and shoulders?’ I asked, shocked. No. Even just the facial? No. What about a scalp massage? No. Or just my legs, my feet, reflexology? No, no, no. I stopped short of pleading, ‘Please just rub me a bit anywhere — on the nose, elbow, the knees, the back of the ears. That’s why I’m here. What am I doing in this robe that screams I’M ABOUT TO HAVE A LONG, RELAXING MASSAGE otherwise?’
I noted that I’d had massages since the end of my treatment and even ref lexology during chemo. She said she’d ‘ask’, went away, came back
To have someone whose expertise is
‘de-puffing feet’ pontificating about my cancer was like a red rag to a bull
and said that their ‘medical guidelines’ meant she definitely couldn’t touch me ( I loved the phraseology: it gave me a glowing leper feeling inside). ‘All I can do for you is a file and paint,’ she said, adding, ‘If I had your cancer, I wouldn’t be risking the massage treatments.’
I know every in, out and nuance of the cancer I had. I know, after my long treatment, that medical experts are satisfied no cancer remains in my body; I know exactly the ramifications of having had lymph nodes removed. I have slight lymphoedema in one arm and am under the care of one of the country’s pre-eminent lymphoedema experts. To have someone whose expertise is ‘de-puffing feet’ and slathering on bits of ‘award-winning face cream’ presuming to pontificate on my cancer experience was a red rag to a bull. Her explanation that bits of cancer might be pushed around the body in any massage was… arghh, I can’t even be bothered finding the word. I stormed off.
Then I sat in the foyer calling every nearby spa place to try to get some treatment that evening. No luck. I ended up sobbing on the phone to the Irish Cancer Society helpline, where the nurse who answered noted that there are 120,000 people in Ireland alive having been through cancer treatment, and the fact this kind of thing happens is just pure ignorance. An ignorance compounded by the fact that, next day, when I spoke with the spa manager she said, ‘What a pity I wasn’t there yesterday. You could have just signed a disclaimer.’ And further compounded by the fact that when I requested a bill reduction at check-out, I was told the therapist had said I’ been offered a facial and refused. ‘Well, it’s your word against hers,’ came the reply when I said that absolutely wasn’t true. So I was a liar, as well as a Cancer Untouchable! After nearly an hour’s delay, I got just over a tenner off the standard two-night B&B package — wow, is this Irish four-star spahotel hospitality in the year of The Gathering?
It was a hideous, unnecessarily upsetting experience — I wonder if any of you have been through something similar? The spa ‘guidelines’ were just plain wrong in my case; there was no indication on the hotel website that clearance, say a consultant’s letter, might be required — and in the context of a ‘pampering’ break, the whole brouhaha about old illness was horrible. My treatment was so shoddy, all because I’d been through cancer? Again, wow.