Chapter 05: Bringing Massage to the Place of Wellness and Integrative Medicine

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Chapter 05: Bringing Massage to the Place of Wellness and Integrative Medicine

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Ms. Sumler explains that she eventually was offered a contract position to offer chair massages for "brief relaxation" in patient waiting areas. She explains why the massage was labeled in that way and talks about progress made in creating an inviting space for patients at the Place of Wellness. She also discusses training she received in massage therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2002.

Identifier

Sumler,PSS_01_20180501

Publication Date

5-1-2018

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; Overview; Definitions, Explanations, Translations; Joining MD Anderson; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Faith; Offering Care, Compassion, Help; Patients; Patients, Treatment, Survivors; Cancer and Disease; Formative Experiences; Faith, Values, Beliefs; Evolution of Career; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Multi-disciplinary Approaches

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

I’ll want to come back to a lot of these issues, but I wanted to kind of get that story of the transition from here you are, private practice, starting to get all these referrals, to becoming a person who can come and then practice at an oncology center. Tell me about that process, because that’s a lot of learning you went through during those years.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So I think, really, in the beginning was just a lot of just studying, kind of trying to learn about cancer, what was cancer. When I was first diagnosed cancer was just one thing, not 200 different diseases, and different diseases with all subcategories within themselves. And trying to learn about cancer treatment, and how it worked, and... And then some of it, as I was working with people, many of them would be patients at MD Anderson, and so my clients would invite me to come with them to give them a foot massage while they were getting chemotherapy infusion, or for a back massage while they were in inpatient. And so speaking with the staff, speaking with nurses, they were very supportive of that. Yeah, the nurses would usually put a sign on the door, “Do not disturb,” or they would tell me, “Okay, she’s got this medical device, or this is happening.” So just really speaking with my own doctors, my own surgeon, oncologist, speaking with staff here, reading. But the more time I spent just walking from—in the halls of MD Anderson and being up here, I started feeling just this really deep... You use the term a “calling,” but I just started feeling this deep feeling that I’m supposed to be here. I just felt like I am supposed to be here, and... Which is really kind of a shock for me, because when I was younger (laughs) I think I was the person that I would go visit someone in the hospital but I would faint in the hallway. I just could never imagine I could ever work in a hospital. It was just... So I had... So by this time, I was still kind of getting towards the... I had progressed a lot on that journey of realizing that that Self with a capital S doesn’t suffer, and so we can help people to have that experience, that you can have suffering and then still have another experience at the same time.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

What was the status of your own cancer at the time?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

After that second—the second—the first time that it came back, I just kept getting scans, and kept being clear.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Oh, wow, yeah.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So, yeah. Yeah, so... (laughter) My doctor said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but just keep doing it.” Yeah, just keep doing it.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

That’s wonderful news.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So I think kind of... So another thing that happened kind of—this would be before I started at MD Anderson—was my daughter, Guru Kirn, was in high school by now, and she went to the DeBakey High School for Health Professions. In their junior and senior year, they do a preceptorship in the Texas Medical Center. And so I was hoping for her senior year that she could get something—at that time they called it “alternative medicine.” So I was hoping that she could have some experience in alternative medicine in the Medical Center. And so I spoke with Dr. Mary Ann Richardson [DrPH], who I knew through yoga, and she, at that time, was the Director of the UT Center for Alternative Medicine Research. And I asked Mary Ann, “Do you know anything that Guru Kirn could do (laughs) for her senior year?” And she was, “Yes!” She said, “She can work with me, and she can work at the Place of Wellness at MD Anderson.” And so that was my first introduction to the Place of Wellness, which was pretty new at that time. So this would’ve been around ’99, I think, or... Yeah, probably—or ’98. This was probably—when I talked to Mary Ann was around ’98, so my daughter was there in ’99. And so my introduction was as Guru Kirn’s mom, who’s a yoga teacher, and they kept inviting me to come and teach yoga at the Place of Wellness. And I really wanted to, but logistically the time period that they wanted was when I picked my kids up from school, and I just wasn’t going to sacrifice that. Because I think that was part of my journey with cancer was there were certain things I did with my kids that were golden, and those were the things I did, and it was still picking them up from school, even though they were a lot older now. And so that just never happened. Anyway, one day, when I was walking through the halls of MD Anderson, (laughs) after I had seen a client. I thought, I’ve just got to go talk to—then it was Laura Baynham Fletcher was the Director of the Place of Wellness. And so I just dropped by the Place of Wellness. I think there were—they had three employees at that time. (laughs) And I just told Laura—I said, “Hey, Laura, if you ever want to start a massage program here, I’m interested, so just let me know.” And Laura said, “You know, we are interested in starting a massage program, and we’ve—we’re actually working on that.” And she said, “I have another massage therapist that I’m working with, but if we get it up and going we’ll let you know.” And so I was like, “Okay.” And so anyway, at some point after that, a friend of mine taught a yoga class in an artists’ studio in the Heights and asked me to sub for him, and so I went to go sub, and Deanna Cuello, who was, like, one of the three people who worked (laughs) at the Place of Wellness, was in the yoga class. And after class she came up to me and said, “Hey, we started that massage program at the Place of Wellness. Are you still interested?” And I said, “Yeah, I sure am.” And she said, “Well, the therapist that we hired wants to go on vacation in two weeks. Would you come and sub for her for two weeks?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And so then we were doing chair massage, and so I came and subbed for Cynthia Raman, and by the end of the two weeks Laura had gotten a position for me to start as a contractor. And so I’ve been here ever since.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Yeah, that’s great. That’s great.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So our contract position—we started with chair massage. We did chair massage in the Place of Wellness, and also in different wait areas. It started, I think, in the breast cancer wait area. Over time, we had other wait areas. The ones I primarily did was the ICU wait area, and then also at the Rotary House, which is the Marriott Hotel connected to MD Anderson. And so those were my primary places. We, over the years, added other areas, but kind of those were my two ones that I did for a long time.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Now, at the time, when MD Anderson—when Integrative Medicine was establishing this program, what were they saying were the reasons to provide massage to cancer patients?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Really, for relaxation. They really tried to be very clear that this was relaxation massage. And as a matter of fact, (laughs) they called the massage that we did “brief relaxation massage.” And I remember that they were trying to, I think, look at it, as opposed to therapeutic massage, and I would try to say, “But relaxation is therapeutic.” (laughs) But really, that was—that’s what they were trying to say.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And what were the reasons for that? Why were they being so specific about that at the time?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I think they were trying to be careful that people wouldn’t think we were trying to cure cancer, basically, or that we didn’t have evidence for—to make other claims. And so I think they were just really trying to be cautious to not make claims that we couldn’t back up.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

I mean, part of the story I’m interested in here is it’s been a challenge to get Integrative Medicine techniques accepted in the broader institution that is so firmly rooted in Western medicine. So there has to be some strategizing about how it’s presented, and kind of the pacing, I guess, of unfolding the full value and implications of this kind of practice. So I’m interested in that process.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I know that there were things—I remember hearing from someone who’s not here anymore, who started the first support group, and when they were wanting to start a support group, that I think she was told, “Well, that’s what we have Sister Alice for.” (laughs) And it was like, we have all these patients who need a support group. And just kind of the process of working, of getting a support group—it was for women—approved. And then I think the first room that they were given was kind of like a boardroom that was all very dark wood. (laughter) And so kind of going through this process of just changing how things look. I remember just our own center, the Place of Wellness, the colors on our walls were institutional colors. [Redacted] (The recorder is paused.)

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, so I think I was talking about just, like, changes that happen over time, and once a patient came in to our massage treatment room in the Place of Wellness and saw the color on the wall, and at that time the institution used the same colors throughout, and when they saw it they said, “Oh, this is the color of my personal torture room.” And so it was, oh, we need to make some changes here.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

So tell me about that evolution, I mean both in terms of the institution, but also as you began to practice, and you obviously had a much broader sense of the value of massage and yoga than this is about relaxation. So however you want to unfold that story, how it all began to take shape since 2000.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, when I... So when I—while I was a contractor, I saw that Memorial Sloan Kettering had—was starting to offer a massage course for massage therapists to work with cancer patients. They also had a massage program at that time that they had started, and so I asked if they would send me to it, and they said, “Well, we can’t send you as a contractor, but we’ll send you when you’re on staff.” And so when I was hired on staff, right away I got to go to this training. Before I went, Laura asked me, she said, “Would you—do you think that you would be interested in developing a program? Would you want to teach this?” And I said, “Absolutely.”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And that was in 2002. I’m just seeing on your...

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, or two thousand... Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay, yeah. Oh, and then there’s—

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I think that might be—maybe that’s a mistake, because maybe it was 2003. I’ll have to check.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay, there’s also anatomy and physiology at Baylor College of Medicine, so...

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Oh, right.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay, so anyway, we can check the... I mean, just—but we’re in the ballpark there.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

So 2002, 2003, you went to Sloan Kettering.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, and that was fabulous. That was just incredible. I had already—I think, like, on my first day as a hire, Laura gave me two names. One was Wendy Minor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and then Bambi [Mathay] at Dana Farber, and she said, “Contact these two people.” They were the lead massage therapists in their massage program. She said, “Contact them. You will be working directly with them on many projects for the rest of your career.” That’s been absolutely the truth. And so it was great. I got to go actually meet Wendy in person, take their course. It was fabulous. Learned a lot. Got to tour their hospital, go on rounds with them. And that was amazing. The training at Baylor was great. That’s one that they’ve had for many years, an annual training, and I think when I first started working here I was spending a lot of time looking up terminology. (laughs) And so just—that was a great training that I recommend to all of our students.

Chapter 05: Bringing Massage to the Place of Wellness and Integrative Medicine

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