Am I now a Can­cer Un­touch­able?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - anne.gildea@mailon­sun­ Anne’s mem­oir I’ve Got Can­cer, What’s Your Ex­cuse? will be launched on Wed­nes­day at 6.30pm at The Gut­ter Book­shop, Tem­ple Bar, Dublin. The Nualas play the Civic Theatre, Tal­laght, on Fri­day and the Hawk’s Well, Sligo, on Saturd

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.

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