By Kimberly Hundley | Photos by Sam Nalven
It’s not that no one has heard of lymphatic massage. But the treatment is obscure enough that Nancy Wakely has to dedicate a large chunk of her time to schooling potential clients about just what she does, how her approach is different, and what a difference stimulating fluids in the “tree of life” can make to their well-being.
“Most people don’t even know what the lymphatic system is. I’m trying to educate the doctors and the public, and let people know I’m here to help heal,” says Wakely, who founded the Lymphatic Healing Center in the Greater Airpark 14 years ago.
The center’s tagline, “We move fluids,” sums up the mechanics of the massage, and a quick biology lesson illuminates the benefits. Wakely likes to describe how the lymphatic system has two jobs: to bathe every cell in the body and to detox and cleanse the liquid coursing beneath 90 percent of our skin. Lymph nodes, she says, use their “hairy little arms to grab toxins,” which then must be pumped from the body.
Wakely and her staff coax the lymphatic system to move and drain by every-so-gently stroking key areas throughout the body, which boosts the immune system and stimulates the metabolism.
“Right now, lymphatic treatment is the best keep secret,” Wakely says. “We live in a very toxic world—the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothing we wear. When your body is bombarded with toxins, it will store what it can’t process. That’s why everybody needs a lymphatic every now and then.”
During her 20 years as a massage therapist, Wakely became an avid student of the lymphatic system and developed her own approach to treatments based on feedback from clients and doctors as well as her own observations. For one thing, her massages last 90 minutes, substantially longer than those of other providers, because she noticed clients got much better results. She also begins with a 25-minute organ massage, a step not incorporated in traditional lymphatic training, which her studies revealed hadn’t been updated in five decades.
“The abdomen is the main dumping ground where everything is processed and eliminated, and more focus needs to be there,” she says. “So many people are clogged up due to poor diet and routines. If your digestive track is sluggish or having issues, it slows everything else down.”
Wakely’s most ardent fans discovered her out of necessity following a surgical procedure that left them with painful swelling, a common side effect of going under the knife. The center works regularly with about 15 plastic surgeons and other doctors who believe lymphatic treatment speeds healing and gives patients better results. Part of Wakely’s challenge in growing her business is convincing more surgeons of the value of her service.
“There are doctors out there who don’t get what I do,” she says. “They just send their patients home and tell them, ‘You’ll be fine.’ And I’m over here flailing my arms, going, ‘I’m here! I can help you heal!’”
Retired schoolteacher Jami Peterson is among those clients who call Wakely a “guardian angel.” After enduring a botched surgery that sparked a chain reaction of horrors worthy of a Stephen King novel, Peterson found herself dealing with chronic edema. The puffiness was so acute, she couldn’t even put her shoes on. Her doctor didn’t recommend lymphatic massage—or even diagnose her—but an offhand comment by her anesthesiologist prompted her to research edema online, and there she found the Lymphatic Healing Center’s comprehensive website.
“Nancy has healing hands and she is remarkable. The methodology Nancy has developed has given relief to lots of post-op patients. I live in Tempe, but I choose to make the trek up the 101 to her because she’s worth the effort,” says Peterson, who credits the surgeries for disrupting her system and causing chronic lymphedema.
Over the course of those first 19 weeks, Peterson came in for a massage about every five days. At the end of the period, she not only felt immeasurably better, she’d lost 39 pounds, a testament to the lymphatic system’s link to body metabolism. She now visits twice a month to manage her condition.
In some types of cancer surgery, lymph nodes are removed, and without the little “drains” doing their job, fluid builds up. Scottsdale resident Debra Kolbert, a 10-year cancer survivor, found Wakely through a Groupon-type promotion. She was familiar with the type of massage through the Virginia G. Piper Center in Scottsdale, where she’d been treated for swelling in her arm following surgery, but preferred the Lymphatic Healing Center. When the lymphedema flared up a couple years later, she returned to the Airpark locale.
“If you go to Nancy’s facility, it’s very soothing and they are very sympathetic. The idea is to help you get better,” she says. “The Piper center is more like going to a physical therapist—it’s more clinical, and sometimes it feels like they are just checking boxes until you’re finished.”
Wakely wishes surgical patients would come to her prior to their procedures as well. “Some studies in Europe show moving the lymph system before surgery resulted in less scar tissue, keloids and that 1 percent ‘ick’ factor,” she says.
Other benefits of lymphatic massage include smoother results from liposuction; reduced swelling and bruising following cosmetic procedures such as face lifts and “Mommy Makeovers”; an immediate increase in movement and mobility after all types of procedures, even colonoscopy; and a lessening of pain.
Cost for a session is $120 for 90-minutes, and those who buy a package of five receive a $100 discount. The treatment is so gentle, post-op patients can start as soon as a week after surgery. Most opt for three massages weekly.
Wakely moved from Shea Boulevard to the larger Airpark facility to ensure she’d have enough therapists to accommodate doctor referrals without anyone having to wait for treatment. She hasn’t raised her fee in years.
“The cost is very reasonable, and there’s a reason for that. The doctors are here in Scottsdale, but the clients are coming from all over the Valley,” she says. “I want everyone to be able to afford to come here. It’s so important for their healing.”
Lymphatic Healing Center
8149 E. Evans Road, Suite 5