THE SHORT VERSION
I am Tracy Walton, founder of Walton Massage Therapy. I have practiced massage therapy since 1990. I am licensed in Massachusetts, with an office in East Arlington.
My primary work is direct, hands-on massage care for people with cancer and cancer histories. I also work with caregivers and health care workers.
From the first client I worked with while they were in cancer treatment, it was clear that massage could help in cancer care and beyond.
Over the years I have taught oncology massage therapy, written about it for trade and health care publications, and worked on various research projects in massage therapy and cancer care.
THE LONG VERSION
I’ve worked with people across the life cycle, and in all stages of health and illness. Over time, more and more people with cancer have found their way to me, along with their caregivers and healthcare providers.
I graduated in 1990 from the Muscular Therapy Institute (MTI) in Cambridge, MA, then built a busy private practice. I had gone straight from graduate school in biochemistry to massage therapy school. I ended up teaching science at MTI, then managing the general curriculum.
I’ve written a good amount about massage therapy in cancer care: A monthly column for a while. Articles in trade journals. A few clinical papers.
In 2011, my general textbook about massage therapy for health conditions was published. Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy: A Decision Tree Approach took me 6 years to write, the second draft while my newborn slept.
When I started out in massage therapy, “oncology massage therapy” was not a thing. There was little curriculum, so I created one. I was my first student.
It was not easy at first! Back when I was in school, in massage education around the world, there had been an old myth: Massage wasn’t safe for people with cancer. We took years undoing that myth, then developing massage therapy approaches for clients during treatment and beyond.
We documented our clients’ experiences, and pushed for more research and recognition.
Eventually I saw that by teaching other massage therapists, we could get skilled touch to many more people who needed it. Since 1998, I have taught oncology massage therapy in some form to thousands of massage therapists around the world. In 2008, I began training a team of instructors that is still with me today.
Now in the 2020’s, we have textbooks, trainings, conferences—even a professional association devoted to oncology massage therapy. Hospitals offer massage therapy to their patients with cancer. We’ve come a long way, and I’ve been honored to be on that ride.
Lots of years ago, I worked with the Osher Institute, studying the effects of massage therapy on people with advanced cancer. Then I worked on an overview of oncology massage therapy research with the late Cynthia Myers of Moffitt Cancer Institute.
My last project was with William Collinge. We developed multimedia instruction for caregivers, so they could learn to massage their loved ones with cancer. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the program is used in many healthcare settings and is translated into several languages.
Of all of the roles I’ve played in my profession, massage therapist is a constant, an enduring source of pride. I enjoy physical work and the privilege of caring for people.
I'm grateful for the people with cancer and cancer histories who have found their way to my practice. Healthcare professionals and caregivers, as well.
They have become my joy to know, and the focus of my practice.
Where have I worked?
In a spa, hospitals, classrooms, and private practice.
In 2021, after 30 years in the same office in Cambridge, MA, I moved my practice to East Arlington. I expect to spend the second 30 years of my career there.
I don't know if I have a particular philosophy about my work, but I think a lot about well-being, being well, and the place of my work in the world.
Our circumstances don’t always support our well-being, but massage therapy can. Massage therapy is a direct, unassuming way to care for people. It means a lot to me to provide that support.
What is this "Well-Being?"
I think of well-being as more of a presence, rather than a perfect state. It can't really be forced, but it can be invited. For me, it's hard to describe the feeling in words, but easier to tell in stories. Here is one of my well-being stories:
In October 2001, fresh after 9/11, I flew cross-country to teach oncology massage therapy, then on to look after an ill family member. By the first stop, I was a jangled mess. Flying was awful. The hotel TV blared anthrax and war. I was consumed with fear and worry. I couldn't sleep.
Try as I might, I couldn't move through the stress on my own. My nervous system needed some outside help.
In some desperation, I scheduled a massage session at the hotel. The quiet young therapist had skilled hands. We chatted little. I soaked in a tub.
My state changed. My airplane neck didn’t hurt. I slept. I went from struggling to coping.
I continued the trip, better able to travel and teach, then travel again, then visit family to look after things, then travel home.
That was just one massage therapy session, at the beginning of a long trip. Imagine what a course of sessions can do!
For many, well-being can mean several days without pain, a couple of nights of decent sleep. A stretch of peace. Easier breathing. In moments of well-being, challenges become more manageable.
Getting to Well-Being
Sometimes we can "manage our stress" by ourselves. Other times, we need outside help to shift out of chronic stress.
Massage therapy can be that outside help.
Massage therapy can help ease state anxiety, but it can also help with trait anxiety--the tendency to be anxious. With the right help over time—a course of massage therapy—well-being can become a durable, familiar condition. I am here for it.
My pronouns are she/her.
I am a middle-aged mom, wife, and dog owner. I volunteer for voting rights. I consume news, novels, science, poetry, and essays. Owing to a faithful Wordle practice, I know a lot of five-letter words.
For fun, it’s a toss-up between a bicycle and a hula-hoop.
Society for Oncology Massage
American Massage Therapy Association
Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals
1990 - Diploma, Muscular Therapy, Muscular Therapy Institute.
1988 - M.S., Biochemistry, Northeastern University.
1985 - B.A., Biology, Wellesley College.