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Alison Fisher: Navigating Healing Paths - From the Film Industry to Tai Chi and Oncology Massage

Updated: Jun 23



Meet Alison Fisher, a massage therapist specializing in oncology and medically complex cases, and an IPSB alum. In this interview, Alison discusses her transition from a past life in the film industry to her impactful role in therapeutic touch. In this interview, we uncover Alison's transition from a past life in the film industry to her impactful role in therapeutic touch, exploring the pivotal moments that shaped her unique journey and discovering the profound significance of her work in holistic healthcare. Her story is one of compassion and empathy and we couldn’t be more excited to share it.

 

Pronouns: she/her

 

Tell us about the work you currently do (specialties, etc): 

 

I currently work as a Hospital Based Massage Therapist at 2 local hospitals, UCLA and USC Norris Cancer Center.  At UCLA I work in an infusion center (an outpatient setting where people receive intravenous treatments).  I work with 2 other therapists providing hand or foot massage for the patients while they are sitting in easy chairs or beds receiving their treatment.  At USC I work with cancer patients who are inpatients. This means they are staying in the hospital for various reasons. 



I also work privately in people’s homes or in my office space at my home.  I have a regular client who is bed ridden with Multiple Sclerosis and I like working on people using Manual Lymph Drainage for orthopedic problems. 

 

In addition, I work as a private Tai Chi teacher and administrator/instructor for the Tai Chi school that I attend.

 

Describe your journey to becoming a bodyworker. When did it begin, and why did you choose bodywork?

 

I started my massage therapy training at IPSB in the fall of 2013. I had already had a long, successful career in the film business working as a sound editor. I just wanted to change my life and I enjoyed giving other people massages. So I looked for a school and found IPSB. I wasn’t even completely sure if I would follow through with this work, but I decided to give it a shot. 

 

Why (and when) did you choose to attend IPSB?

           

I chose IPSB mostly because of its connection to Tai Chi Chuan. I had already been a TC practitioner for 16 years when I arrived, so it was a natural fit for me.  I also appreciated the “alternative” vibe. 

 


One of your specialties is Oncology Massage. Can you tell us more about this work? What inspired you to go into Oncology work?

 

When I finished my 150 hour technician training, I saw a small ad posted for Heart Touch training, which trains therapists to volunteer to work with hospice patients. I had followed a distant bell to go to massage school, but the bell that rang when I learned about Heart Touch was very loud indeed.  I took my training in Feb of 2014 and began volunteering soon afterwards. I worked for Skirball hospice once or twice a week for 5.5 years and being with hospice patients provided me with invaluable training in just being present with people. There’s no “fixing” someone who’s dying, only being with them in the most authentic way possible.

 

During that period, I continued my training at IPSB.  In November of 2014 I took a class called “Oncology Massage” which was created by Johnnette DuRand who heads up Greet the Day.  Part of the class was a student clinic working with cancer patients. I just loved it. I loved being able to bring something good to someone who really needed it but was at a place in their life where maybe they could not seek out a traditional massage.

 

It took me a little while, but eventually I returned to Greet the Day to take more advanced training and eventually started to work for them in 2017 in the hospital setting. 

 

I also continued at IPSB taking more classes in Reflexology, Craniosacral and Polarity.

 

How do you approach massage therapy differently when working with clients who have undergone or are undergoing cancer treatments?

 

Oncology massage is not a modality so much as an informed process of how to work safely with the different challenges that face people living with cancer. In the hospital it is a non-invasive, non-clinical, comfort oriented intervention which is often in short supply in a stressful clinical environment. So the primary goal in the hospital is relaxation and compassionate touch. It is, by and large, gentle massage. I  can’t emphasize enough how invaluable my Craniosacral training has been in terms of being able to work with patients using a light but fully connected touch.  I also use my training in presence to just be with the patients, without any expectation of outcome.   This is not to say that some people don’t just have a knot in their neck or shoulder, and sometimes I address things like that.  But their condition disallows anything that is too vigorous or taxing to the system.  Sometimes I help gently move some edema and sometimes I help with extreme skin conditions that result from their treatment.  Oftentimes I see people who have peripheral neuropathy, and gentle massage is beneficial for symptom relief. But more importantly, I treat them with dignity and respect. It’s really helpful to make people feel like a whole person and not just diseased parts.



As far as oncology massage that might be done in an office or spa setting, it is again knowing your clinical considerations and how to work safely.  Especially with breast cancer patients or survivors, there is a protocol to safely work with compromised lymph systems and ways to work with scar tissue.

 

Can you share any stories of positive outcomes from your work in this field?

           

Nothing is better than when the person I’m working on goes into deep relaxation. That shift into the parasympathetic nervous system that can really aid in healing.  Sometimes they are just so grateful that someone has come along and touched them deeply at a time of such vulnerability.  What an honor!  One of the amusing outcomes I see at the hospital is that so many times I look up and the patient’s family member or caregiver has also fallen into deep relaxation without even being touched! 

 

Many times the positive outcomes are so simple, such as helping with the arthritis pain in someone’s hands whose passion is knitting.   It does not necessarily have the through line of working with a client to resolve their issues. Sometimes patients are really sick and then you never see them again. But I really can’t think of more gratifying work.

 

In my own private practice I have been able to bring some resolution to people’s pain and swelling.  I have helped people prepare for orthopedic surgery, and helped with the aftermath of surgery.  Manual Lymph Drainage has so many applications including aiding cancer patients with the effects of lymphedema (an incurable condition that involves chronic swelling, often the result of cancer treatment).  Other than surgery, I have treated acute gout flare ups, arthritis pain, bruises and Lyme disease.

 

Mostly I love seeing the outcome that some educated, loving attention brings to a body.

 

What advice would you give someone pursuing bodywork or considering school at IPSB? (Bonus points for anyone interested in going into Oncology Massage or specializing in working with the medically complex).

 

Firstly, if someone is considering IPSB I would say without hesitation what a great school it is.  It really made me grow as a person as well as get high quality training.

 

One of the things that surprised me and that I really love about massage is how creative it is. Every single client poses a different situation, a different approach. So if you love creative problem solving, you’ve found your field.

 

There are surprisingly few therapists in the field of Hospital based massage. (We are moving away from strictly Oncology massage because the same techniques can be used on any hospital patient)  You do have to do some advanced study and you do have to be able to interact with clinical staff, thoroughly understand the clinical considerations at hand  and be able to explain the benefits of massage.  So many medical staff have no idea what we are capable of and yet I get the warmest reception from nurses, doctors and pharmacy staff.  Because our programs are funded by grants to the hospital, so far this work is part time and all the therapists I work with also work at spas or have private clients.  However this is changing little by little.

 

Students who are interested in pursuing a specialization in Hospital Based massage can check out the work of Healwell, an organization back east that is at the forefront of this type of work.  They also have an interesting podcast.  (https://www.healwell.org)

 

Locally, Greet the Day runs classes for therapists to be able to safely work with oncology patients no matter where they are in their journey.  They also offer training in infusion center massage. (https://greettheday.org)

 

Also, Heart Touch offers trainings in their method for hospice massage and some other palliative care training. (https://www.hearttouch.org)

 

Website and Social Media where readers can learn more about you:

 

I’m allergic to social media, but I would like to add that I’m available to any IPSB alumni if they are ever in a situation where they have questions about a client they have who may be going through cancer treatment or another serious medical condition. I might not have all the answers, but I would be happy to talk it through.

 

My preferred contact is email alisonfishermt@gmail.com .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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