Therapeutic Relaxation – Puffer’s Salon & Spa Adds Oncology Massage to Its Offerings

Last November, licensed massage therapist Jillian Otis was assigned to play the role of a woman with breast cancer during a four-day oncology-massage class offered by Tracy Walton & Associates in Boston.
During a faux consultation, she told a fellow massage therapist she was suffering from nausea, dizziness, and lack of sleep; felt sluggish from chemotherapy treatments; and had a problem with the lymph nodes in one arm.
The information was critical because it allowed the therapist to give her a massage that was safe but provided all of the benefits associated with the practice.
“It can take creativity to make someone with cancer comfortable, and you have to make sure you use the right amount of pressure,” said Otis, a licensed massage therapist who works at Puffer’s Salon & Day Spa in Westfield, as she outlined highlights from the specialized training created by Walton, a pioneer in the field of massage therapy and cancer as well as a researcher, educator, writer, and massage therapist.
Otis told HCN the supervised class and clinic provided her with valuable knowledge that will allow her to work with people who have or have had cancer.
Judy Puffer, who owns and founded Puffer’s, is happy she is able to offer this new service to people with cancer. She has always stayed on the cutting edge of health and wellness — when she opened her Westfield spa in 1985, massage had not gone mainstream, and few people knew about its benefits — and today she makes sure her 35 employees are kept up to date with the latest training and techniques in the fields of cosmetology, esthetics, and massage.
Puffer first heard about oncology massage during a retirement dinner for a massage instructor at Springfield Technical Community College (she serves on the board of directors for the school’s Cosmetology program). As soon as she discovered that special education was available and necessary, she established a new rule that is being enacted in many spas: if a guest came to Puffer’s for a massage and told the therapist they had cancer, they had to be turned away.
“Many people were upset and disappointed, but if someone has cancer, they need a therapist with the appropriate education to give them a massage,” she explained.
“Each patient has a story, and we want to help them, but only if it can be done in a way that is safe,” she continued, adding that she has a friend who owns a spa in Worcester who sent a letter to every client informing them they could not offer massages to people with cancer.
Puffer has five massage therapists, and because she wanted to add oncology massage to the services she offers, it seemed serendipitous when she hired Otis last October and discovered her interest in taking a course in oncology massage.
It is used as therapy in many hospitals, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and studies show that massage can reduce nausea, anxiety, and depression; ease pain and fatigue; increase mobility; improve sleep; and help people with cancer relax.
Otis said her interest was born when she was in massage school and volunteered to give light hand and foot massages to patients at the Burbank Cancer Center in Fitchburg.
“Talking to the patients had a huge impact on me,” she said. “They were in such good spirits, and I felt grateful to be able to have a small but positive effect on their day by offering them a service that was relaxing and non-invasive.”
For this this issue and its focus on women’s health, HCN outlines the history of this local salon and day spa and why it is so important to Puffer to have an educated staff as she increases the services her business offers.
Expanding Fields
Puffer opened Puffer’s International Inc. in downtown Westfield more than 30 years ago at a time when facials and massages were relatively new to the area. Although the practice of using touch as a healing modality began 5,000 years ago and was used in the U.S. to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock, it was perceived as a luxury until the latter half of the 20th century, when a growing interest in natural healing methods brought it to the attention of the public.
“When I opened my mini-day spa, most people in the area didn’t know what a massage was. But today, things have changed in terms of knowledge, education, and understanding the health benefits it provides,” Puffer said, adding that people appreciate its benefits and she believes oncology massage is an area of expertise that will grow due to the incidence of the disease and the fact that therapists with this education will be able to help people in a variety of settings.
But when she opened the doors to her new business in 1985, Puffer was its sole cosmetologist. She quickly hired a team to work for her, however, and had one room dedicated to facials, massage, and pedicures.
A decade later, she made the decision to expand and purchased a spacious, two-story building at 50 Southwick Road. Five years ago, a treatment room and hair-styling stations were added in the lower level, and today all three floors are used by a staff that has grown to 35 employees.
Many upgrades have been made over the years, including a new glass wall in the pedicure room where thousands of tiny bubbles rise continuously in a pool of water inside and enhance the dimly lit, relaxing atmosphere.
A few feet away in a sitting area, a lighted fireplace glows and provides a quiet oasis where people having multiple services can enjoy lunch.
Puffer’s also has a full hair salon, and offers a plethora of other services that range from makeup lessons and applications to skin-resurfacing treatments, peels, eye treatments, massage, and a wide variety of facial and body treatments.
The salon and day spa was also one of the first in the area to offer manicures using shellac polish, which many people prefer over acrylic or gel nails.
“You want to give your clients the best,” Puffer said, adding that a number of her employees have worked there for almost two decades.
She has never lost her passion for the industry and enjoys seeing people transformed by a new hairstyle or relaxed after a service such as a facial or massage.
Histories are kept on each client, documenting important details such as the amount of pressure they like during a massage, which allows them to receive consistent care even if they have different therapists.
“We have come a long way from where we started; we didn’t even have a parking lot and had only one phone back then,” Puffer recalled.
Making a Difference
Puffer believes in giving back to the community and has held many cut-a-thons for charitable causes that range from raising money for Earth Day to supporting local cancer programs and Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
“If you have a passion for something, it drives you,” she said, adding that she is proud of her staff and attributes the success of Puffer’s to their expertise and loyalty.
But behind that is a continued desire to help people in an educated manner, which includes the fact that Puffer’s now offers oncology massage.
“I hope I can make people with cancer more comfortable and ease a little bit of their pain,” Otis said, adding that some may be dealing with the disease by themselves or without much support, and although some cancer hospitals provide massage services, she believes experiencing the therapy in a much more relaxed atmosphere is conducive to healing.
Indeed, Puffer’s has come a long way and will continue to do its best to provide guests with services that enhance their health and well-being and the way they view themselves.