Even when she was in a life-or-death struggle with cancer, Heather Ryan’s hands still practiced the healing gift.
It is three years ago last Friday that Ryan, a 12-year Valley resident, beat breast cancer.
“I feel like I’ve got a gift. I’m happy to share it,” she says.
Ryan was voted “Best Therapeutic Massage” practitioner in the 2013 Best of the Valley reader poll. She’s a cancer survivor who helps other people heal and hope.
“It feeds my soul,” Ryan says of her work. “It’s the only job where I wake up, thinking ‘I love coming to work.’ It’s a job that gives back to me.”
Ryan’s skills in healing touch took shape when she was only 7. Her mother, Shirley Davies, had Bell’s Palsy, a partial paralysis of the face, ever since Ryan was young.
“She had a lot of facial nerve pain,” Ryan said. “My dad had big, gnarly man-hands. He could not do it.”
So Ryan’s hands did the comforting, massaging her mother’s face and neck.
“She talked me through it,” she said. “She was suffering a lot. It felt like I was able to give her some comfort.”
Ryan grew up in the Santa Cruz/Monterey area of California.
In her early adulthood, she drove ambulance as an emergency medical technician.
“It was a different time. That was way back when,” she says, “there were no paramedics in Santa Cruz County,” so Ryan, an EMT, went on all the emergency calls.
“It was exciting—and something for young people,” she added.
She worked emergency rooms, then for an eye doctor and orthopedic surgeon, gaining experience in the world of medicine.
“I probably should have gone to nursing school,” she says. “Things didn’t work out.”
Ryan came to North Bend with her ex-husband. After 17 years as a stay-at-home mom, she divorced, and life changed.
Ryan was ready to go back to work, but the skills and training had moved on for all of the jobs she’d ever done.
As for driving an ambulance, “joining the fire department at 45 was not an option,” she said. “I thought about the things I’d enjoy doing.”
Ryan remembers the “wonderful” massage therapists she’d worked with in the Valley. Nancy Colton, her mentor and inspiration, practiced in North Bend. She helped get Ryan into the Brian Utting school of massage in Seattle. She graduated in 2006 and opened her own business in 2007, moving locations several times.
At the club across the street, Ryan would dream of her own place.
“I used to sit over at Boxley’s, on the couch, and I’d look across the street, see this very building, and I’d say, ‘There’s my office.’”
She opened The Healing Garden a year ago, going solo. For her, just two years after her bout with cancer, still recovering, it was a big deal.
She had the intention of forming a group of massage practitioners around her, and sure enough, she started the warm, comforting place, and they came.
“I’ve got wonderful practitioners who have unique and valuable skills,” she says. “Everybody here is an independent practitioner. Everybody here is allowed to have their own practice and have freedom. We have meetings to keep things on the same page.”
“Many of my clients are my friends.” Some become her friend through the practice. “I hold them all dear to my heart.”
Ryan was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. It was out of necessity that she hung in there on her beloved job. Enduring five surgeries over 15 months, she always came back to work between treatments.
“I kept working through it,” she said. “As a single mom, I didn’t have anybody else paying the bills.”
She overcame cancer, thanks to a lot of emotional help from her Valley friends, who threw her a big benefit to pay for surgeries and bills.
“The community came together in a big way to help me get through it,” she says.
“Even though it was not an easy thing to go through, I’m grateful for the opportunities cancer gave me to see the love and generosity in our community and for reminder that life is precious,” Ryan told the Record. “Joy can be found every single day. You just have to open your eyes and heart to it.”
Since then, Ryan has changed her diet and routine, and many other parts of her life.
Ryan credits “feeling gratitude every day and being thankful for what you have, always looking forward to the future with hope and vision.”
Gesturing to her North Bend Way practice, “this would never have happened if I hadn’t visualized it and believed it would happen.”
• Heather Ryan is part of The Healing Garden, a collective of massage and other therapeutic specialists including Nicole Braithwaite, Nancy Witt and Jeremy Hall. Healing Garden is located at 106 W. North Bend Way. Call the business at (425) 292-0402 or visit TheHealingGardenMassage.com.
• Ryan plans a May 1 grand opening event and open house for The Healing Garden.