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Cancer patients, skin care therapy and the power of touch
Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments often suffer visible — and painful — side effects on their skin.
The treatments, while killing cancer cells, also affect healthy cells including the skin and nails. Patients can suffer from varying degrees of hair loss, rashes, dry skin, peeling, blisters, swelling and loss of feeling.
Medical aestheticians like Becky Kuehn are licensed to work with these ailments caused by cancer treatments. Tucked away at the St. Francis Hospital Women’s Health and Breast Center in Federal Way, Kuehn’s massage room is all about comfort, with soothing background music and a calmingly clean scent.
From facial skin treatments to hand, foot and scalp massages, each session aims to nourish the patient’s skin — and soul.
“I tell them, this is your time, this is all about you,” she said of her oncology patients, who talk about whatever they want to talk about — if they choose to talk at all.
In this room, the power of touch is an important part of healing. The therapy, delivered by Kuehn’s hands and supported with her listening ears, soothes patients’ emotional side. Sometimes oncology patients fall asleep during treatment, which Kuehn considers a compliment.
“I try to really be present in the moment with every person,” said Kuehn, herself a comforting presence. “I love what I do. It’s a positive thing.”
Kuehn empathizes with the traumatic shock of a cancer diagnosis because she’s been through it herself. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer at age 18, shortly after getting married. It took one chemotherapy treatment for the cancer to go away for good, and 34 years later, she remains cancer-free.
Through her Evergreen SkinCare Solutions, Kuehn treats around four people a day — mostly breast cancer patients, but all cancer patients are welcome — at St. Francis. She also works for the Jane T. Russell Cancer Care Center at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Gig Harbor.
A special fund is available for patients who cannot afford a treatment. The program’s first fundraiser was held Sept. 17. The Federal Way Arthur Murray School of Dance hosted a gala that raised about $2,000 for the therapy program.
After expenses, 38 people will get free treatments, Kuehn said. More fundraisers are on the horizon.
Breast cancer and skin irritation
According to the Komen Foundation, about 30 percent of people who undergo radiation therapy for breast cancer have skin irritation.
The treated breast may also be rough to the touch, red (like a sunburn) and a little swollen. Sometimes the skin may peel, as if it were sunburned. A radiation oncologist may suggest special creams to ease this discomfort.
Sometimes the skin peels further and the area may become tender and sensitive. This is most common in the skin folds and the underside of the breast. If this occurs, your oncologist or nurse can give you creams and pads to make the area more comfortable.
Check it out
Evergreen SkinCare Solutions provides these oncology therapy services at the St. Francis Hospital Women’s Health and Breast Center:
• Facial skin treatment (50 minutes)
• Caregivers treat: This 50-minute appointment is intended for a cancer patient’s caregivers or close family, who also endure the stress from the illness.
• Hand, foot and scalp treatment (50 minutes)
• Eyeliner and eyebrow techniques: This 30-minute appointment is for patents dealing with eyebrow loss. “Women just want to feel and look normal,” said Becky Kuehn, medical aesthetician.
• Appointments cost a suggested $30 donation. To learn more, call (253) 405-5810 or visit skincarebybecky.com.