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Sumler (Pamela “Sat-Siri” Austin), Oral History Interview: Home

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Interview Navigation Material

 

Welcome to the interview landing page.

 

Scroll down this page to explore this interview in several ways.

An Interview Profile summarizes this individual’s role, specialization, and contributions to MD Anderson.

A Table of Contents shows the range of topics covered in each interview session: each chapter title links to a chapter summary.

Chapter Summaries describe the specific topics treated in each section; each summary links to the corresponding recording so you can listen to the chapter.

Here is a link to the full transcript so you may browse and search. (link)

 

Interview Profile

 

Interview Information:

Two sessions:  1 May 2018, 10 September 2018

Total approximate duration:  2 hours 30 minutes

Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

 

For supplementary materials:

Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:

Javier Garza, MSIS, jjgarza@mdanderson.org

 

About the Interview Subject:

Pamela “Sat Siri” Austin Sumler (b. April 23, 1958, New Haven, Connecticut) came to MD Anderson on a contract basis in 1999 to provide patients with massage through the Integrative Medicine Program.  She is a board certified in therapeutic massage and bodywork, a licensed massage therapy instructor, certified lymphedema therapist and an experienced teacher in the field of yoga.  Since 2003 she has been a massage therapist offering her services through the Department of Integrative Medicine.  She helped developed a massage training curriculum.  In 2018 she received an Outstanding Employee Award from the University of Texas Board of Regents; in August 2017 she earned a Heart of MD Anderson Award.

Major Topics Covered:

Education and personal background; experience of cancer and disease; spirituality and meaning

Meditation and yoga as a life practice and spiritual orientation; massage, meditation, and teaching as spiritual practices

Massage for oncology patients; working with patients undergoing treatment; developing guidelines for massage;

Massage at MD Anderson; building a service and its evolution; developing acceptance/addressing resistance of patients and clinicians; developing a training program for massage therapists

Stories of work with patients

Participation in research studies

Hope for the future of alternative medicine under Peter Pisters

 

About transcription and the transcript

This interview had been transcribed according to oral history best practices to preserve the conversational quality of spoken language (rather than editing it to written standards).

The interview subject has been given the opportunity to review the transcript and make changes: any substantial departures from the audio file are indicated with brackets [ ].

In addition, the Archives may have redacted portions of the transcript and audio file in compliance with HIPAA and/or interview subject requests.

The views expressed in this interview are solely the perspective of the interview subject. They are not to be interpreted as the official view of any other individual or of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.


Table of Contents

 

Interview Session One: May 1, 2018

 

A Child with a Different Perspective
Chapter 01 / Personal Background

Scoliosis Changes Life and Perspective
Chapter 02 / The Patient

Exploring Massage and Raja Yoga; Cancer is a New Health Challenge
Chapter 03 / Personal Background

Massage and Cancer Patients: A Contemplative Practice
Chapter 04 / Overview

Bringing Massage to the Place of Wellness and Integrative Medicine
Chapter 05 / Building the Institution

Massage: Benefits to Patients
Chapter 06 / Building the Institution

Training Massage Therapists and Building Institutional Acceptance for Massage
Chapter 07

 

Interview Session Two: September 10, 2018

Patient Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy
Chapter 08 / Overview

Clinician Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy
Chapter 09 / Overview

Contributing to Research on the Value of Massage
Chapter 10 / The Researcher

A Few Words about Yoga and Views on MD Anderson’s New Directions
Chapter 11 / Overview

Reflections on Contributions and on the Art of Massage, Meditation, and Teaching
Chapter 12 / Character and Personal Philosophy

 


 

Chapter Summaries

Interview Session One: (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A: 
Interview Identifier (listen/read)


Chapter 01  (Personal Background)
A Child with a Different Perspective   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Personal Background
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Faith

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about her early realization that she had a different perspective on life than other children her age. She talks about her early affinity for nature when was a child in Connecticut, her fascination with questions about the universe and intuitive grasp of non-duality. She tells an anecdote about how her father would joke with her, inadvertently supporting her growing perspective. She then talks about discovering the Daoist koans, yoga and pranayamic breathing.



Chapter 02  (The Patient)
Scoliosis Changes Life and Perspective   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Personal Background
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • The Patient
  • Professional Path
  • Human Stories
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Formative Experiences

Ms. Sumler begins this chapter by noting that she initially aspired to be a dancer. She then narrates the progression of her scoliosis through the seventies and after her spine fusion surgery in 1976 and shares several stories of significant physical and psychological events. She talks about the grieving she had to do because of the blow scoliosis dealt to her identity as a dancer and describes her process of coming to accept her new physical state and identity.



Chapter 03  (Personal Background)
Exploring Massage and Raja Yoga; Cancer is a New Health Challenge   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Personal Background
  • Faith
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • The Patient
  • Professional Path
  • Human Stories
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Formative Experiences
  • Evolution of Career

Ms. Sumler begins this chapter by explaining that she became interested in massage during the year she spent in bed after her spinal surgery for scoliosis and was learning about alternative treatments. She also talks about joining a raja yoga community because of her desire to live a spiritual life; her yogi was the source of her name, Sat Siri, and her yoga teaching practice at Yoga Central. She then talks about her diagnosis with melanoma and describes undertaking yogic death practices to confront this challenge.



Chapter 04  (Overview)
Massage and Cancer Patients: A Contemplative Practice   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Faith
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Formative Experiences
  • Faith, Values, Beliefs
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

Ms. Sumler begins this chapter describing how she began to practice massage in 1986 and tells stories to illustrate how “massage is artistic expression.” She also notes some myths in the massage community at that time, e.g. that massaging cancer patients would spread their disease through their bodies. Ms. Sumler questioned this belief and decided to know more about massage and cancer. At the same time, family and friends were referring clients with cancer to her for massage. She explains technical aspects of her work with cancer patients.

Next, Ms. Sumler explains how she came in contact with Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson. She describes how she felt a “sense of calling” when she was at the institution. She was first invited to come and teach yoga, but that opportunity didn’t work out.



Chapter 05  (Building the Institution)
Bringing Massage to the Place of Wellness and Integrative Medicine   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Faith
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Formative Experiences
  • Faith, Values, Beliefs
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches

Ms. Sumler explains that she eventually was offered a contract position to offer chair massages for “brief relaxation” in patient waiting areas. She explains why the massage was labeled in that way and talks about progress made in creating an inviting space for patients at the Place of Wellness. She also discusses training she received in massage therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2002.



Chapter 06  (Building the Institution)
Massage: Benefits to Patients   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Professional Path
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about what massage offers the cancer patient and tells several stories about patients’ reactions to massage. She also discusses the supportive attitude of many MD Anderson clinicians, particularly in rehabilitative and supportive care. She notes that to document the safety of massage in the first three years of the massage program, she took patients’ vital signs before and after massage.

Next, Ms. Sumler talks briefly about the value of yoga for oncology patients. She ends this chapter with comments about how massage makes her contemplative practices manifest.



Chapter 07  (Building the Institution)
Training Massage Therapists and Building Institutional Acceptance for Massage   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Education
  • On Education
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Professional Path
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Human Stories
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Working Environment
  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about her work building a training program for massage therapists. She talks about the importance of critical thinking for massage therapists who have been trained to work with healthy populations. She gives examples of how critical thinking comes in to work with cancer patients. She says, “you are not taught what you don’t know, and that’s what you need to not harm someone.”

Next, Ms. Sumler gives examples of how MD Anderson staff have accepted massage as part of a patient’s experience and treatment.

Interview Session Two: (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00B: 
Interview Identifier (listen/read)



Chapter 08  (Overview)
Patient Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Professional Path
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Human Stories
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Working Environment

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about why patients in general may resist getting massage, and how cancer patients deal with special issues of vulnerability in massage. She also talks about the positive impact of massage on patients, recounting anecdotes to underscore the role of massage in reconnecting patients positively with their bodies. She also discusses how positive personal experiences with massage can lead patients to consider other complementary services, and vice versa.



Chapter 09  (Overview)
Clinician Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Professional Path
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Discovery and Success
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Working Environment

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about why clinicians may refuse to send their patients for therapeutic massage, usually out of a lack of information about how specifically this type of massage is tailored to the needs and limitations of patients undergoing specific treatments. She gives examples of how she and others in massage therapy opened communications with clinicians to provide education and overcome resistance. Next she confirms that acceptance has greatly improved since she started with MD Anderson, provides some reasons why, and notes that Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitative Medicine has helped by championing their value.



Chapter 10  (The Researcher)
Contributing to Research on the Value of Massage   (listen/read)

Codes
  • The Researcher
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Professional Path
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Cancer and Disease
  • Discovery and Success

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler sketches her participation in research into the value of massage for patients with peripheral neuropathy and deep vein thrombosis. She also discusses how her own perspective on massage changed through these collaborations. She explains how one study led to a change in the organization of the scheduling of massage.



Chapter 11  (Overview)
A Few Words about Yoga and Views on MD Anderson’s New Directions   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Professional Path
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Working Environment
  • Institutional Mission and Values
  • Cancer and Disease
  • This is MD Anderson
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help

Ms. Sumler begins this chapter by speaking briefly about teaching yoga at MD Anderson and how acceptance of that service has grown.

Next, she reflects on the new direction MD Anderson seems to be taking under Dr. Peter Pisters, who became the institution’s fifth president after Ronald DePinho’s resignation. CLIP She says she feels that “a new light is shining” and she sees a new commitment to the institution’s commitment to care and compassion and its mission to support both patients and employees. She has hopes that acceptance of Integrative Medicine will continue to grow.



Chapter 12  (Character and Personal Philosophy)
Reflections on Contributions and on the Art of Massage, Meditation, and Teaching   (listen/read)

Codes
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Evolution of Career
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Faith
  • Overview

In this chapter, Ms. Sumler reflects on the contributions that have meant the most to her and stresses that she loves to learn, and will continue to expand her knowledge of therapeutic massage during the rest of her time at the institution. At the end of the interview, she talks about her core identity as a meditation practitioner and an artist. She explains how these two currents combine her view of yoga, teaching, and massage as art forms.