Angie Levy and her friends scattered to different states after they graduated from Emory University in Atlanta in 1993, but they still tried to get together each year for a spa day, even after Levy was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer at age 27 in 1997.

Levy, who earned an MBA following her breast cancer diagnosis and worked as a financial analyst in New York City, always dreamed of starting her own business. “She talked about, ‘Maybe someday I’ll own my own spa, and we can all just have our spa day there,’ ” recalls Joanna Klein, Levy’s former Emory roommate, who now lives in Los Angeles.

Caring Touch

The Oncology Massage Alliance provides free massages at medical centers in Texas and Oregon, as well as at cancer-related events.

Yoga 4 Cancer offers free yoga classes to cancer survivors in New York City.

Lucy’s Love Bus offers grants to children with cancer, with an emphasis on children in New England, so they can get therapies, including massage and horseback riding, that improve their quality of life.

Levy died of metastatic breast cancer in 2007 at age 36. The following year, Klein, her mother Nancy Berry, who is a breast cancer survivor, and other friends decided they would start a different type of “spa” to honor Levy. Angie’s Spa, based in New York City, provides grants to hospitals across the U.S. to pay for massages and other soothing services. The free activities are available to patients while they are in treatment for any type of cancer.

During its current funding year, Angie’s Spa is giving a total of nearly $170,000 to eight hospitals in six states. All of the institutions fund massages through Angie’s Spa, and some also offer acupuncture. Hartford Hospital in Connecticut provides yoga, while UMass Memorial–HealthAlliance Hospital in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, has a music therapy program.

Many patients get massages while receiving chemotherapy infusions. Others may get them or other services on days they go in for radiation or surgery-related appointments.

Aid in Unwinding

Use these techniques for a relaxing massage.

Sat Siri Sumler, a massage therapist at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has the following tips for caregivers who want to use massage for loved ones with cancer:

  • Try a brief foot, hand or head massage to start.
  • Use slow, gentle strokes.
  • Check with the patient about what feels good during the massage. Stay away from surgical or radiation sites, medical devices such as ports, and areas with lymphedema or near tumors.
  • Consult with a medical professional about whether the patient has any massage contraindications, such as a low platelet count, which can cause people to bruise and bleed more easily.

“Patients personally told us they were so debilitated and exhausted and just psychologically spent from their treatments, sometimes they just didn’t want to go in for them,” says Klein. Knowing they will get a massage or other service that will make them feel better “really helps motivate people to go in for their treatment.”