Thursday, June 2, 2011

Up and Down Time

I won’t be going to Kenya next month. For all who didn’t know I might be going, it will come as no news at all either way.

For a safari or a smattering of Swahili, Kenya would have been a fine place to visit, but the distance between Manhattan and Nairobi is 7359 miles. And that doesn’t include the rides to and from the airports. By comparison, the subway ride from my apartment to the Bronx Zoo is 7.67 miles and 50 minutes away.

I asked others for their opinions, which varied from “You have to go!” to “Are you crazy?” To one friend, I glibly suggested the challenge of “going eye to eye with the beast,” to which he replied, “You’ve already done that this past year… you’re still recovering!” adding his refrain of the familiar, “Are you crazy?” His was the swing vote; accordingly, I
declined a costless, first-rate invitation to Africa. I’m not schlepping to the Bronx Zoo any time soon, either.

Eschewing “far away places with strange sounding names” for the past 10 months, getting away has taken on new meaning for me. I’ve been sticking to nearer-by places. Places where I can brush my teeth with the water and take or leave the animals.

Robert Frost may have chosen “the road untaken,” but the time came for me when the road of choice plainly was the one that offered a good massage around the bend.

Last Christmas, I returned to Mohonk Mountain House, an idyllic, Victorian mountaintop resort 90 miles north of New York City where my family and I spent the previous Christmas as well as many extended summer weekends over the years. I knew in advance I wouldn’t be able to ramble its hiking trails or scramble its rock paths. But I also knew what I could do at Mohonk—loll, luxuriate and heal in its spa, which, among its wide-ranging menu of massages and therapies, wisely includes informed treatments for cancer patients. I arranged in advance for three different massages by three different therapists over three consecutive days.

On the first morning, wrapped in the most luxurious spa robe my skin has ever met, I surrendered body and state of mind to the healing hands of Kelly for a Swedish Massage that included a formula of herbs, roots, flowers and fruits from Thailand (the Swedish Quarter?) and culminated with the damnedest ethereal face massage. I didn’t so much slip out of the spa as slide out of it.

On my second day of Christmas, my treatment was imaginatively more improvised than prescribed by Deborah who, while I was conscious, applied mixes of citrussy oils. Bathed in them, I basked in front of the spa’s fireplace.

All three massage therapists had been briefed on my “special” needs in advance, but by the second treatment I’d discovered that all the frills and special massages offered, no matter how seductively described, don’t come close to a massage tailored to one’s individual needs. Mine were being perceptively addressed.

The order of the third day was CranioSacral Therapy. I didn’t need a robe, or to disrobe at all, for this one. While I lay on my back, Michael, the resident CranioSacral maven of Mohonk, gently raised the back of my head between his hands and cradled it as if it were weightless. I don’t understand what he did beyond that, but 55 minutes later (while my grandchildren were adorning a graham cracker gingerbread house with candy and icing!) I was lulling in the calm of a therapy that turned my mind to gingerbread.

I’d already cleared my prior radiation-stage massages with the chief nurse at the hospital where I was treated, and had a New York City therapist with a doctorate in Applied Kinesiology, a woman who has worked in cancer care for over 30 years, ministering them to me weekly. The surprise in store for me came when I ventured beyond New York State.

Having had more than enough of last winter and aching for a warm-weather vacation, my wife and I chose a 7-day Caribbean cruise—to nowhere, as we thought of it—where “R&R” became for us “rest and recuperation.” Our relatively quaint ship, “the world’s largest yacht,” according to its captain, had four masts and… a spa! Why not a massage at sea?

When I told the manager of the spa, a young Englishman, what I was seeking from a massage, he said he wouldn’t let his therapists touch anyone who’d had cancer before five years had passed, warning how detrimental for me it would be to “move” my cells. He assured me it was what they believed in England. It took about as long to change his mind as it did for me to tell him that I’d had the green light from my medical people and countless massages since, so if he was right, it was too late at any rate. He agreed! And scheduled (“sheduled”) me. I, in turn, agreed to his choice of a “hot stones” massage, more gimmick then substance, I suspected, but felt I had to agree to something.

My therapist was a cockney lass from London. The “hot stones,” though soothing, proved to be no more than I expected from them. My massage was barely satisfactory. I found it disconcerting that my therapist fled post haste from the spa when we were finished. What business could she have that was so urgent?

In the corridor the next day, I observed a familiar-looking chamber maid entering one of the cabins. I didn’t have to be looking up from a massage table to recognize her: she was my therapist! I couldn’t find a conflict of interest in it, but come on!

Back in New York, I related what the English believe about “moving” cancer cells to my experienced-and-expert massage therapist, whose no-nonsense response was: “If you walk, exercise, stretch deeply or scratch your back, you move cells. Anything you do moves your cells. Is that inviting more cancer? And if you have to wait five years, what happens if you only wait for four years and eleven months?” I love logic.

I wonder what a Kenyan massage is like.


  1. Hi there, I like your blog, and want you to visit mine, if you can, and follow if you will and I will follow you also....?


  2. You picked a hell of a day to bring up massages, Ray. After resigning myself to the fact that I would not be able to schedule a massage before leaving town, I spent my afternoon "enjoying" a $1 massage from a vibrating chair in the mall. (Believe me, I didn't even know they existed until today!) It felt about as comfortable as I imagine it was for Chaplin to get sucked inside those giant gears in 'Modern Times.'

    Way to rub it in!

    [seconds later]

    Jesus Christ... Pun not intended.

  3. Ray,

    It's good to see you writing again! To pile on the aforementioned pun, I'd much prefer for you to rub it in than for the cancer to have rubbed you out.

    Steve Eskow

  4. Please don't think all the English are so silly about massage, I hope that was just one foolish 'therapist'. The Haven Centre in London, for instance, which specialises in breast cancer offers, among other things: 'craniosacral therapy, hands-on healing; homeopathy; Indian head massage; kinesiology; massage; medical herbalism; reflexology; reiki and shiatsu'. And I definitely agree with Ray about hot stones...