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Massage Therapy For Palliative Care Patients - Karen Larsen

A Meaningful Massage

Karen Larsen has been volunteering with Nelson Tasman Hospice for 5 years now. She brings 20+ years of experience in massage therapy to the service, putting aside a couple of hours a week for hospice patients at the Specialist Palliative Care Unit.

Karen’s background is in therapeutic deep tissue massage, but when she’s with hospice patients she focuses on relaxation massage. This can be anything from massaging hands, or feet, to a full body massage. She said “I can remember that when I first came here, I went to see a man, he had a brain tumour. I used to give him a full body massage and he loved it. I would spend about an hour at his place sometimes. Then, there was a lovely lady who had motor neuron (disease), and it helped to give her a neck massage, feet, hands, whatever she felt like at the time.”

“The important thing is, they look forward to it. If you can make someone feel better at the end of the day, it’s just such a good feeling”

For many there can be barriers to volunteering, so it is really valuable when someone can give their time.

A busy schedule makes it hard to imagine fitting in the time to volunteer. The key for Karen has been the flexibility of the role “I can really work this into my schedule, as it’s not like you have to do it on certain days.” Often, another concern is around the emotional aspect of caring for patients with a life-limiting illness. Karen explains “It can be difficult, going to people’s home regularly, because you do talk and often become friends. There’s nothing wrong with that. It can make it challenging though. However, working in the unit makes that easier, as I can walk out at the end of the time and think, ‘I enjoyed that’ but not carry it with me.”

Engaging with hospice patients in this setting can be incredibly meaningful.Karen Larsen giving a hand massage to a patient

Karen said, “You meet people from all walks of life, all different ages and for some, this is the first time they’ve been massaged.” It’s important to have a gentle nature in that situation, as it can be quite strange for some. Karen continued “I’d never push anyone into it, but I just reassure them that it won’t affect their illness and explain that it can really help them to feel more relaxed.”

Occasionally, when Karen comes in, her priority can be giving a massage to patients that are in pain while waiting for new medication to kick in, or to help people that are feeling upset or grumpy. It can distract them for a while and help them relax. The beauty of voluntary work is in this flexibility. Unlike paid work, where you must schedule clients at a specific time, volunteering allows you to be available as needed, when you can, for as long as you are able to give. This not only makes a huge difference to your ability to volunteer but really adds value to the service for patients and colleagues.

Massage can have a fantastic effect on the brain to calm and relax.

The kind of massage Karen gives to patients is quite different to her clients. She explains “It’s a completely different vibe because I’m not trying to ‘fix’ anything. It’s a feel-good thing, which aims to make someone smile.”

“The pleasure that I get out of it is huge. You get to see someone smile. You can have really meaningful conversations and often get really great feedback.”

“If I can put some energy into something and see I am making someone smile, or relax, it just makes my day. I have this huge euphoria sometimes because I can say ‘I did that today’. It’s so worthwhile. If you haven’t experienced it, you should do it. It just makes you feel good and you know that it helps a patient as well.”

The volunteer team at Nelson Tasman Hospice are always keen to welcome new volunteers, with a range of skills and abilities. If you’re interested in volunteering for Nelson Tasman Hospice, please get in touch with Krisca Gould, Volunteer Programme Manager or click here to fill out our online application form.

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