When Dr Yen invited me to accompany her on a business trip to Nghe An Cancer Hospital in Vihn City this weekend, I jumped at the chance! She and a colleague were spending 5 days delivering Palliative Oncolocgy Care training to 25 doctors in the hospital and on the final day, Sunday, she had asked if I may lead a massage workshop based on the Touch, Caring and Cancer Program.

Dr Yen’s Family were travelling down on the Friday to spend the weekend in Nghe An with her, so they gave me a lift. Dr Yen’s daughter, Huyen, proved to be the perfect travelling companion, and together we made the most of our beautiful 5 star hotel and enjoyed some serious pampering! Swim, Sauna, Massage, fresh seafood, walks on the beach… Just what was needed after a busy couple of weeks in Hanoi.

On the Sunday morning, we arrived at the hospital and Dr Yen showed me around. It was interesting for me to see the contrast between the conditions here and those in K2. Parts of the hospital were only 2 years old and looked similar to wards you might see in the West. On the other hand, you also had outdoor covered areas that served as wards to a hundred or so patients. I do wonder how they cope in the colder winter months…

The room I was to be leading the workshop in was a meeting room with a large table in the centre. There was one mattress for me to perform demonstrations and I quickly decided that the best course of action was to teach the techniques in the seated position. One thing that this trip has taught me is how to adapt massage to any situation and it pays to have a bit of a problem solving attitude-I never know what conditions I will be working in or what I will have to hand!

Initially shy and a little sleepy, I watched as the room came alive and soon all the doctors laughed and joked as they practiced the techniques. As I watched, I couldn’t help but muse upon how this would be received if we suggested a similar workshop for doctors in the UK?

Before I knew it, 2 and half hours had flown past and it was time to bring the workshop to a close. Seeing the reactions of the participants in the workshop, I was left with little doubt in my mind that the doctors would use the techniques both with each other, with patients and their families. They all left clutching their copies of the the Touch, Caring and Cancer Manual and DVD and chatting excitedly. For me, it was so heartening to see mainstream medical professionals so enthusiastically embracing massage and seeing the value of it in helping to deliver the best possible care to their patients.

After the usual round of photos and exchange of contact details, Dr Yen beckoned me outside where I was introduced to Dr Huong, the director of the hospital. He took my hand in his, shook it vigorously and thanked my profusely. He said what a great honour it was for a “Massage expert” to take the time to visit his hospital. I was really quite taken aback. In my eyes, all I was doing was sharing what I could with people who are willing to receive and embrace massage and all the benefits that I have to offer. To have massage; my work and something that I so passionately believe in, held in such high regard by medical professionals whom I have so much respect for, is incredibly humbling.

In the West, so much of the healthcare and medicine we provide has to be justified by evidence based reaseach, and rightly so. Unfortunately, this type of research for massage is something that is seriously lacking. This is slowly changing, but we still have a long way to go. For me, a massage therapist, to be able to command the attention and respect of a room full of mainstream medical professionals was incredibly heartening and gives me hope that complementary therapists can one day have the value of their work recognised in our healthcare system in the UK, and the West.

In a country where they lack the resources that we are fortunate enough to have in the West, I have been endlessly impressed with the care I have seen delivered. The doctors here seem to really treat the person, not the disease, and this sort of holistic approach is one that I firmly believe in. We seem to have lost sight of this in the UK, with too much of our time and money spent on paperwork and politics.

Surely, what matters most at the end of the day is the patients. Here, there is no doubt in my mind that their care is the number one priority.