A Path From Drywall Contracting to Senior and Oncology Massage

Del DeLashmutt considered himself a massage ‘hobbyist’ all his life. As a child, he was always inclined to respond to those who were in pain, whether they were an athletic sibling with an ache, or an aging auntie with arthritic pangs. As a young adult, Del spent a short stint in the military before moving into a full-time career as a drywall contractor. But the massage hobbyist never hung up his healing hat. In time, he found that massage therapy was meant to be his true calling, and not just a sideline.

Taking advantage of a gift

Thanks to a generous friend who’d been the recipient of DeLashmutt’s healing hands over many years, a massage table had been procured in 2006. He could now think about his own body mechanics as he performed his massage. Like many accommodating hands-on healers, Del spent years making do with working on couches, floors, and beds. Not surprisingly, he paid the price in his own body over time. Twenty demanding years of contractor work didn’t help.

Many found their economic base uprooted in 2008’s Great Recession. Del, felt the pinch severely as demand for drywall contracting evaporated with the tanking real estate market. The structures of his life were further redefined that year when his father died.

But the silver lining in that period of upheaval soon revealed itself. Del learned his father had left him money earmarked for tuition for massage school. He decided he was ready to make the leap.

Deciding to go to Massage School

Oregon School of Massage (OSM) seemed like the natural choice: he was first introduced to the institution when he bought his massage table there. But he also thought it would be wise to shop around, so he visited two more schools.

For Del, the choice was clear. He really liked the feel of OSM, the philosophy of the school, the impressive student-to-teacher ratio, and the variety of massage modalities that were offered there.

Then in his early 50’s, Del considered how he would enter the health services sector as a newly minted Oregon Licensed Massage Therapist. Having been in business for many years as a contractor, he knew he would need a marketing strategy to chart his success.

Taking full advantage of the curriculum offerings at OSM, Del prepared himself for the niche market that seemed the most obvious to him: Baby Boomers. As far as Del could see, his career would be taking off just as the the Boomer aging curve would be sharply rising. This meant he could follow the group from middle age into retirement.

Another benefit he considered in working with this population would be the opportunity to apply hands-on healing in a gentler way. A way that would require less of the physical output and applied pressure that’s required in more demanding modalities, like sports massage.

Finding a Niche

He also speaks of the good fortune he had studying with Gayle MacDonald at OSM. MacDonald is recognized for her work and publishings on massage for cancer patients, hospital patients, and the medically frail. According to Del, the first class he had with her ‘“really rocked my world. I felt my calling.”

Focusing even more on his niche specialization, Del followed a training path that eventually led him to his massage work at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).

In January 2013, he completed his practical exam. On Valentine’s Day of that year, he passed his written exam, and by April he’d entered the Oncology Massage Certification Program at OHSU. Soon after, he took the Hospital Class which gave him exposure to each of the different oncology units.

For the next 3.5 years, Del volunteered at OHSU’s Center for Health and Healing Infusion Clinic (CHH), and then the hospital’s Center for Hematological Malignancies (CHM). It was at CHM that he began practicing the more critical oncology infusion massage.

One day, a social worker who had heard about Del asked if he’d be available to volunteer for a month in the Heart Failure Unit. His supervisor okayed it. At the end of that month, the social worker inquired about how she could keep him on the floor. His supervisor answered for DeLashmutt: “Easy. Pay him.”

Landing a Hospital Job

The pivotal conversation led to paid shifts two days/week in the Heart Failure Unit and a paid shift at CHM. This also left time for Del to cover shifts out at The Springs at Tanasbourne, another break that came his way thanks to a fellow student at OSM. She had invited him to bring his massage chair and join her at an open house at the retirement home. More good fortune came that day, when the owner of the salon offered Del a massage therapy job at The Springs.

But like all massage therapists, DeLashmutt knows that the ups and downs of the business have to be weathered. In 2018, OHSU’s Heart Failure Unit closed, and with it, his paid shifts. Fortunately, someone from the Kohler Bone Marrow Transplant Unit and Kohler General Oncology Surgery and Infusion floor asked if he’d like a position there. He accepted.

Practicing with Purpose

The new role involved gowns, gloves and masks massage. Del refers to this work as “the pinnacle of oncology massage. You have to really pay attention to what’s going on in order to give a safe massage.” He admits that it’s difficult, but says he feels very honored to be working there. “To give someone a respite from a body that is just giving them such a hard time is an amazing experience.”

Now that he’s working in different oncology units at OHSU, he follows people from the Infusion Unit up to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, and then sees them again for follow-up treatments. This step by step progression allows him to become quite close with the patients. He notes that it still hurts when one of them passes.

In addition to his work at OHSU, the Springs at Tanasbourne, and offering private oncology outcall services, Del also joins the Pink Lemonade Retreat for Breast Cancer Survivors in the Gorge four or five times a year, providing massage for the participants.

Del says he’s thankful for the strong hands that have carried him through two careers and 27 years. When asked if he had any regrets about becoming a massage therapist, he emphatically said, “None. Maybe just that I didn’t do it sooner.”

DelDeLashmutt can be contacted at deldelashmutt@yahoo.com.

Liz Howell writes about health, wellness, and sustainability. She can be contacted at elizabethhowellpdx@gmail.com.

Submitted 7.16.19

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