The power of spa

Spabreaks founder Abi Wright on how to change the spa industry’s attitude towards treating cancer patients. 

It's important to point out that everyone in the spa industry is concerned about the welfare of their clients and it’s for that reason that an issue has arisen when it comes treating clients with cancer. Unfortunately this desire not to cause harm, alongside fear and a lack of education has come to be dealt with in entirely the wrong way. Many spas will not treat clients with or recovering from cancer, particularly while they are undergoing chemo or radiotherapy and this refusal can cause the person anxiety and upset.

The attitude can also cause spa-goers to lie about their health, which is dangerous for everyone and means it won’t be possible to take the right measures for clients’ safety and comfort. For example, research carried out by UK-based The Power of Touch (TPOT) shows that at least 65% of clients previously denied a massage at a spa or salon due to cancer would or already have lied about their condition to ensure they’re not refused treatment again.

On the Spabreaks Recovery Retreats, which launched in 2012 and were developed specifically for clients with cancer, we’re working with spas that want and are able to offer safe treatments for this clientele. Spabreaks is also part of the network established by TPOT, an organisation working to ensure that by 2018, no client is turned away from a spa or salon because of cancer. We have found that for the most part people want to help. What’s needed is more education on the subject, creating a better understanding of how to treat someone with cancer.

Awareness through education
The primary reason spas have been fearful of treating clients with cancer is a longstanding rumour that massage can spread the cancer through the body, which is now largely understood to be untrue (as we have, for example, found by speaking to the clinical lead at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, a cancer care, research and education centre in Manchester in the UK). In fact, all evidence points towards spa treatments being very positive and extremely helpful for the overall wellbeing of any client, including cancer patients.

There are, however, factors that need to be taken into account for clients who are unwell. Treatments may, for example, need to be gentler and some products might not be suitable as they could be overwhelming for or irritate skin that has become sensitive as a result of chemotherapy. And if the client’s immune system has been compromised, hygiene becomes more important than ever.

For spas to successfully work with cancer patients, the industry – everyone from the business as a whole to spa managers, therapists and education bodies – needs to be proactive in seeking out information. Students and therapists need to get the right education and feel confident in the work they’re doing and spa managers should support their teams on this. It’s about making education on treating those with cancer freely accessible and this is why TPOT, of which Spabreaks is a founding member, was set up.

TPOT’s aim is to educate the industry in a way that is practical and beneficial to all and to ensure that we continue to push for all spas and salons to be fully cancer aware by 2018. It’s about knowledge, so we need to keep talking, sharing and learning. It’s also about removing fear and ensuring therapists and clients feel safe and comfortable in the spa environment.

It’s not a question of providing miracle cures, it’s simply about helping people feel a bit better when they’re having a hard time. A spa treatment is a great way to ease the tension in the body and the psychological and physical impact a kind and nurturing touch can have on people who are going through something difficult is incredible.

Healing and restoration At Spabreaks, we hear stories from therapists about how women who feel they have lost everything that makes them feminine through chemotherapy and a mastectomy have ended up crying with relief during a treatment, simply because of the emotional release and the sense that someone has made them feel human again. To be part of that is amazing.

Spabreaks is now working with the cancer support charity Breast Cancer Care. Initiatives include £1 from every spa voucher bought on Spabreaks between February 16 and March 16 going to Breast Cancer Care. We recently also partnered with The Willow Foundation, which works with very ill young adults, including cancer patients, to encourage more people with serious illnesses into spas.

When it comes to the Recovery Retreats, the idea is to create a safe environment in which clients who are unwell can be looked after, put everything else aside (as much as possible) and have time out just like anyone else. Clients have their consultation over the phone before they visit so that when they arrive it’s not about cancer, it’s just about being themselves. No makeup, no armour, just safe and wrapped up in a fluffy white robe, even if it’s just for a little while.

Abi Wright is director and co-founder of UK-based, which helps consumers find the best spa getaways in the UK, Ireland and countries across Europe. Her roles before setting up Spabreaks include PR and marketing manager for The Vineyard Hotel and Spa and running her own PR company.