Oncology Massage on Midday Makeover WENY TV


PK Smith has been in business for 22 years problem-solving people’s aches and pains. Although she is happy to offer the traditional massage, it is intriguing when people come in and say, “My hip really hurts, and I don’t know what I did”. PK will bring a variety of techniques to the table to begin the process of healing and offer some relief. She works from her home at 211 E. Second St, Corning, NY and can be reached at (607) 936-2814 or by email at PKSmith211@gmail.com.

How did you get to this place?

I started out at the Swedish Institute of Massage in NYC. It is one of the oldest massage schools in the country. It specialized in Medical Massage. I come from a medical family; my father was a doctor (pediatrician) and my mother was a nurse. As a child, we sat at the kitchen table talking about childhood illnesses and how to solve them. I was never squeamish about the body. Also, how the body heals has always been of interest to me. That was one of the reasons I chose the Swedish Institute. I wanted that grounding in Western Medicine versus Energy Healing before going on to the Holistic Health aspect.

NY State has a very rigorous program, requiring 1000 hours of training before you can sit for a state licensing exam. Not every state does that. It is changing. (22 years ago in California, a massage therapist registered with the police because it was looked upon as a sexual act. That has been a big perception massage therapists have had to overcome). That has happened. I now have medical doctors who refer to me.

Once I learned the muscle, tendon and bone relationship and how to work with muscle, I then became interested in the connective tissue. It runs throughout the body and can affect how the muscle is holding its particular tension. I received training in Cranial Sacral Therapy through 5 different programs. The Upledger Institute teaches in different parts of the country. You go for a series of 3/5-day workshops. This is where I first learned manual Lymph drainage techniques. After practicing those techniques over a period of years, I began seeing patience who were coming to me seeking treatment after being diagnosed with cancer. When I attended massage school, we were told NOT to work on people with cancer for fear of spreading it throughout the body. As it turns out, that is a very outdated and incorrect view. However, you do need to be very careful. You do not want to be working over a tumor site simply because it could be very painful. If you have radiation, the bones become brittle. A massage therapist has to be keenly aware of the amount of pressure you use.

I decided to study at the Peregrin Institute of Oncology Massage. Unfortunately, it is no longer offering the program, but provides online support for any of the former students, operating more as a mentoring program. It was a 2 year program of on-site, week-long classes, returning home to practice what you have learned, writing case studies, testing and another tier of advanced learning. This pattern continued for those 2 years before taking an exam for certification.

I continued with additional Lymph Drainage training. I wanted to feel confident in these techniques and I just love it. There is a real need for it in this area, but I always tell people to go to their Lymphodema Center. It is part of their insurance coverage and they need to understand what these facilities offer. There are certain things I cannot do because I am not a nurse. (I cannot bandage nor measure people for compression garments). Having said that, they do not do the same hands-on work that I do.  Often, people do not get the fluid cleared out of their body regularly or in the way they need.

I also offer my services to oncology patients at a discounted rate to keep this affordable to people.

The next evolution was an interest in tuning forks.  It was intriguing to me and I found a local therapist in Hornell, NY. (Liz Cox) It began with a treatment. I found a deep, deep relaxation that I get with massage. When I came home, there was a sustained energy that helped me get much more done than I was used to. Liz said that was typical and would last for about 2 weeks. In my experience, people who are receiving tuning fork therapy from me, are reporting the same results. They want this before their massage to assist them find deep relaxation in the beginning.

What have been your greatest stumbling blocks, either personally or in business?

When I started in this area, no one knew me. I could not afford a business rent AND a home rent. I lived in a tee-pee for 4 years in Hornby. There were many wonderful things around that and many difficult things. I progressed from working in a chiropractic office where I rented a room to renting an office space above another business. I realized that home mortgages were cheaper than business rent. I also felt my client base was big enough that they would come to my home. I think that initially, with no one knowing me, that would not have happened. Also, massage was beginning to build in its reputation.

I began searching for a house that would have the right layout. When I found this house, I made the purchase-offer contingent on the city approving me having a business here, which they did. In 12 years, I’ve probably saved $70,000 in business rent over time.

Another stumbling block in the past was the ‘cloud’ that people wondered if you were a sex worker. No one would believe that you could make a living doing therapeutic massage full-time. In this day and age, the negative veil has been lifted. However, one of my biggest complaints has to do with the movie industry depicting a sex act accompanying a massage therapist.

That would answer the “Do people have any misconceptions about you or your business question”.

If you could have a do-over, what would you do differently?

Any strength can also be a weakness. Working alone and building my business up, I believe I have a good reputation. People can count on me. In one way, I feel very isolated. For a while I was saying to people, “You work at Corning, Inc. You are around so many people. I feel so isolated”. One day someone made the point that they did work around a lot of people, but that did not mean they ‘knew’ them. I thought about that. I may see about 20 people in a week. Some of them I have known my entire career. I have a very intimate story that is ongoing with people. They too have shared their health issues, their joys and disappointments. I have too. It’s a strength that I have built this business and yet, I am very single.  I would not know how to do that over.

The end of the day clients have been very reliable. I work until 7pm. That puts a dent in your social life. That part I would like to do differently, but I’m not sure exactly how to do that.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself doing what I am doing. I hope the oncology massage will continue to grow. I have been very fortunate that my joints and tendons have been able to take the work that I do. I have clients who want deep tissue work. So far, I have not had aches and pains that have compromised that ability for me to do work. I want to continue that.

The Oncology Massage by nature asks me to work more gently with people who are ill. I am thinking that over time, I may transition into that.

As an aside, is there something you are doing for yourself that allows that?

For one thing, DIET. I am very good with vegetables and protein in a low glycemic diet. I have very little sugar. I am certainly not perfect in that, but compared to what a lot of people are eating, I am very careful to get the minerals and nutrients my body needs to stay strong.

Some of it is just genetics. I have had teachers who after 3 years of doing massage have joints that just broke down.

There is one thing that has been very helpful to me and my hands. Laser Wand Touch is an over the counter laser device. A client told me she knew about it from a local chiropractor who will lend the device to you for a week to see if it will help you and allow you to purchase it at cost. The client offered it to me to use. I did not have any issues at the time.  About 6 months later, I got this shooting pain in my hand. For someone in my profession, this is deadly. I called her right up and said I was ready to try her device now. It takes 4 minutes to do. 50% of the pain was gone the next day. I went back and used it another 4 minutes. Again, another 50% of the pain was gone. By the third time I used the device, all pain was gone. I immediately bought one. About once or twice a year, I may experience some achiness or soreness that I know is not going to go away easily and I use it. The pain is gone – boom! That has been huge. However, I have only found it effective on my hands as opposed to other areas on the body.

Getting back to the 5 year plan, it sounds like you will be in business and transitioning more of your work into Oncology Massage.

We shall see. I love that work because it makes people feel better. It also fills in more of my daytime hours. My massage therapist is 76 years old and still working to supplement her retirement. I have a long-term perspective.

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