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Morrisville State College Student Touched by Cancer Reaches Out to Others

Plans Career in Massage for Cancer Patients, Participates in Community Outreach Program at Cancer Center
MORRISVILLE, NY— Jillian Zimmerman learned about cancer at a very young age.

At less than 10 years old, she didn’t understand a lot about her great uncle battling the disease, but whenever she had the chance—she would embrace him or hold his hand to help brighten his day.

It was her nature to make people feel better.

Today, the 19-year-old massage therapy student at Morrisville State College continues to inspirit others. When she graduates in May, Zimmerman, of Tully, N.Y., wants a job specializing in massage for cancer patients.

On April 18, she will see more of what the field entails as she leads a team of massage therapy students in an outreach program at Hematology-Oncology Associates of Central New York (HOACNY) in East Syracuse. From
11 a.m. to 2 p.m., massage therapy students will be volunteering to perform oriental and chair massage on cancer patients and their families.

Participating will be a powerful experience for Zimmerman who’s impassioned about her career choice.

“This is the best career and lifestyle for me because it allows me to help people,” she said.

What most of the patients and their families at HOACNY won’t realize is that beyond Zimmerman’s radiant smile and cheerful demeanor is a deep understanding of what they are going through.

Her life has been touched by cancer three times—the latest—her own battle.

She lost her great uncle to lung cancer nearly nine years ago, her mother had skin cancer, and most recently, she underwent several procedures and had her own scare with pre-cancerous cells.

Each journey has inspired Zimmerman to reach out to others instilling hope and perseverance. Through the power of her massage, she hopes to convey an emotional and physical sense of well-being.

“I know how important positive touch can be for those contending with cancer who are used to difficult or painful procedures,” she said. “Even if it is for a single moment, I want to help them relax and escape from the side effects of chemotherapy and the reality of having cancer.”

During her own trial, massage provided her solace.

“I remember how massage comforted me and helped me find peace in my body,” Zimmerman said. “People don’t realize the many profound emotional and physical benefits of massage.”

“For people who are dealing with cancer every day, massage offers caring positive touch that is emotionally affirming,” Nicole Miller, assistant professor of massage therapy, said.

The healing power of touch can help allay cancer patients’ feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression and anxiety and can also provide hope, relieve hours of anxiety, improve quality of life and stimulate the will to live.

“Just changing a patient’s outlook can have incredible healing powers,” Zimmerman said.

It’s helped in other areas of her life, too, with her mother’s lupus and her own struggle with celiac disease, a genetic disorder that prohibits her from eating foods that contain gluten and makes it difficult for her to gain weight.

There are physical benefits of massage too, including relief from pain, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, and muscle tension.

“We want people to see that massage therapy is not just about relaxing in a spa setting,” Miller said. “We want to expose people to the diversity of what massage can do for them and their particular needs.”

“I want to benefit my clients more than just relaxing them through massage,” Zimmerman said. “I want to give them a better quality of life.”

Zimmerman and four other students working at HOACNY will be setting out to do just that.

Their volunteer work is part of a class outreach program working with special populations. Other teams of students worked at Hope Network, of Liverpool, offering massage therapy to children and parents of children with special needs. Massage students have also volunteered at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse and at various community health fairs.

“We appreciate the opportunity to do outreach programs,” Miller said. “Not only does it feel good for us to help others, but our students are learning diverse techniques and the value of helping those in our community with special needs and circumstances.”

They are also learning about adaptations and techniques working with specialized populations, an area where there has been significant growth in the field of massage therapy, according to Miller.

“Our students’ work with these targeted populations is important because it helps to diversify their experiences,” she said.

Empowering others is a bigger part of Zimmerman’s plan.

“My career is not about me or how much money I will make,” she said. “I care a lot about people. The moments that make everything worthwhile in life are the moments you give people hope,” she said.

Zimmerman is the daughter of Susan and Marvin Zimmerman, of Tully, N.Y.

Morrisville State College’s associate degree in massage therapy prepares students for the practice of the profession of massage therapy. Students enrolled in this program will take courses in liberal arts and sciences and mathematics, as well as massage therapy. To become a licensed massage therapist, students must successfully complete the New York State Massage Therapy Exam. Following the successful completion of this exam, Morrisville State College graduates can become independent allied health care professionals in the massage therapy field.

Morrisville State College offers more than 75 bachelor and associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college was the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers associate degree programs in accounting, business, computer systems technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer, nursing, early childhood, criminal justice and human services to south central New York residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.

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