Laura Bryant-Earner | July 24, 2023

Back in April, I attended my very first in-person Society for Oncology Massage Summit. Ostensibly, I went to represent Healwell (we had a research poster and table) and to network with colleagues in the massage field. It was also one of my bucket list items.

10 massage therapists at a table
Massage therapists in the wild at the 2023 S4OM Summit

I’ve been wanting to attend an S4OM conference since 2018, which is when I took my first oncology massage class through Healwell. It is not hyperbole to say that Healwell’s Six-Day Intensive class, which we now offer as a hybrid online/in-person three-day class, changed my career and helped me create a new life for myself in America. Studying and working in Japan for twenty years was an incredible experience but it left me without a social support group upon returning to this country. I remember sitting in the oncology class thinking, “Yep, I’ve found my people.”

It's no surprise to you that humans are social creatures. We crave connection and the feeling of belonging. Social identity and intergroup relations give us context as we live each day. Most massage therapists that I know enjoy being with other human beings and love serving their clients; yet, I’ve heard many therapists say, “I feel like I am working all by myself.” The chance to share stories, have people validate our experiences and empathize with others doing similar work is invaluable.

Being at the S4OM Summit was an opportunity to be with the past, present and future of the oncology massage field. It was an honor to see Gayle MacDonald receive the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award and Cindy Spence receive the inaugural Irene Smith Palliative Care Award. I got hugs from folks that I’ve only ever exchanged work emails with. I talked with therapists who are interested in learning oncology massage and starting their own hospital programs. And one of the best experiences was standing in the lunch line talking in Japanese with colleagues who also speak Japanese. Suddenly, two strangers piped up with, “What? You speak Japanese? So do we!” And with that, new connections were made.