Using just the right touch

New nonprofit helps adults cope with cancer
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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As a cancer survivor, Martha Hanley knows that even when the disease is gone, it doesn’t mean the anxiety or stress melts away. “When you’re going through cancer and soon after, there is a lot of anxiety and tenseness,” Hanley said. “You need to relearn how to relax because there is the fear that it’s going to happen again.” So Thursday afternoon, Hanley said she was elated that she had the chance to truly unwind while at a new cancer therapy program in Auburn. “It is the most relaxing thing I have ever done,” Hanley said. Hanley was one of a handful of cancer survivors who participated in Future Focus Play Day Thursday. Honey Cowan, founder of the Riding High Equestrian nonprofit therapeutic program, recently launched Future Focus. Working alongside Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital doctors and local trained therapists, Cowan’s program teaches adults how to massage themselves and relax while massaging the horses, goats or rabbits on Cowan’s Auburn ranch. “Animals are healing,” Cowan said. “It doesn’t matter what kind.” Thursday afternoon Tina Hutton was on site to teach program participants the TTouch method for their horses and themselves. TTouch is a method of circular motions used to reduce tension in the body. Hutton said she uses the method on animals and humans. “It’s non-painful and non-threatening and it lets go of old, stiff patterns,” Hutton explained. Hutton demonstrated the motions on one of Cowan’s horses, Lovee. Later, Hanley replicated the movements on a Pinto horse named Drottning. So relaxed by the touch, Drottning let a few long yawns. “Working with animals, it takes you away from everything,” Hanley said. Virgie Galindo, chief nurse executive at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, said the hospital is supportive of programs such as Cowan’s because they help patients cope with a serious disease or illness. “When you’re fighting cancer and the side effects of treatment, it’s always good to have something that distracts you from the pain,” Galindo said. “(Future Focus) will be therapeutic in the sense that working with animals is very nurturing.” Cowan, a cancer survivor, said she hopes to one day shut down her ranch for entire day. She wants to invite other cancer survivors and their families to the ranch so they can all experience the healing help of animals. Cowan added that it was her horses that helped her get through her own cancer treatments. She said on the day of her last treatment, a light bulb clicked in her head. “I thought to myself, ‘I know why I had cancer,’” Cowan recalled. “I’m starting a cancer support group.” For more information about Future Focus, call (530) 888-8891 or visit The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at or post a comment.