TONI MOYNIHAN AND HER LOVE AFFAIR WITH MYOTHERAPY
As the Toni Moynihan Award gets up and running, Toni’s brother Ray Moynihan reflects on his sister’s long term love affair with Myotherapy.
Toni’s myotherapy treatments were legendary, but my sister’s real magic was the way she treated her patients first and foremost as people, giving of herself with warmth and integrity, and in turn being open to receive from those suffering or stressed. “Of all the health professionals I saw during what was a difficult patch in my life” wrote one of her former patients, soon after Toni died last year, “she was by far the kindest and most genuine.”
The Toni Moynihan Award is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the great work of the young healing profession that Toni helped to bring into the world, but the award will also underline the central importance of the genuine human interaction that is the heart of that work.
Having paid tribute to Toni’s humanity, I and many others could be forgiven for thinking at times she was more like a machine. Her energy and enthusiasm for myotherapy in the past decade or two was boundless, simultaneously building an extraordinary career as practitioner and teacher, while at the same time helping to nurture a nascent myotherapist community, now flowering through outlets like this association and its many activities. Many of you will already be familiar with Toni’s indefatigable nature, and her incredible love affair with myotherapy, but for those who aren’t, here are just a few insights, admittedly from a very biased source, her loving brother.
Myotherapist to the stars
As a myotherapist with the Australian Handball team for many years Toni was constantly travelling the world, treating the players, and at the same time building lasting and loving friendships. During her illness with cancer and after her death, those friendships were palpably evident, as handball players took their place in the rosters, slept by her bedside in hospital, and then delivered glowing memorials at her wake. Her role with the Handball team ultimately took Toni to the Sydney Olympics in 2000, an achievement she and her friends and family remain deeply proud of.
Throughout her career, in innumerable locations across Melbourne and beyond, Toni treated the stars, the celebrities and the mere mortals from many different worlds, including dance, ballet, rowing, and tennis, working on occasions at the Australian Open. And all this in addition to running her long-term practise in Collins Street, Melbourne: Teams Myotherapy. And when she wasn’t treating people, Toni was organising educational and professional developments events, encouraging her peers and providing training opportunities for students, over the years helping to lift the quality of myotherapy practise everywhere.
Toni the teacher
Soon, with her remarkable fl air for myotherapy and remedial massage, Toni became employed as an educator, teaching in many settings, most notably RMIT, but also at number of other colleges and universities. Toni and I would often talk about her many students, (de-identified of course) how they were doing, and how she related to them. Sometime I would tease her for being so tough on some of the recalcitrant ones, those who’d handed in an assignment too late, or skipped too many classes. For her part, education was an extremely serious business, and her famous humanity would temporarily lapse when discussing a student she felt was deliberately wasting the golden opportunity of learning.
Toni’s teaching - and her own learning - continued long after her diagnosis with ovarian cancer, which came in late 2006, three years before her death in December 2009. She continued to work as a myotherapist, both as teacher and practitioner as long as she could. She would drive herself around Melbourne in her beloved car from doctor’s appointments to lecturing engagements, and then when she became too sick to drive, she was driven by a roster of friends and family. I’ll never forget those days: Toni undergoing aggressive chemotherapy, with all it’s nasty side effects, at the same time as she was starting a new position lecturing at La Trobe university – teaching anatomy in the wet lab and working with cadavers!
A terminal illness brings new life
And it wasn’t just new jobs Toni started during her time living with the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Among a million other things, she enrolled in Belly dancing classes, joined a choir, renovated house and garden, trained as a Marriage Celebrant, took up art and ceramics, and co-wrote, performed and recorded a wonderful song and video called Resilience. While Toni was certainly shattered by the news that she had an aggressive form of ovarian cancer, with a very poor prognosis, she decided very early on that she would not waste a minute of the life she had left to live. The same energy and enthusiasm she’d been throwing at myotherapy, she now threw
at every new day, and together with her wide circle of family and friends, Toni’s life went into overdrive.
Toni’s bellydancing buddy at the Brunswick school was my partner, Miranda Burne, who moved down with me from Byron Bay, to be close to Toni in recent years. Their adventures together proved highly rewarding, and the weekly classes soon turned into a practise routine for a forthcoming performance –a lot of fun for all who saw it. There’s actually a short video up on Youtube of the pair dancing on the beach in Byron – though you must forgive the dodgy camera-work. One of the great lessons Toni has shared with all of us, is that a diagnosis of a terminal illness does not mean the end of life. On the contrary, for my sister, this beautiful and extraordinary woman, the diagnosis offered opportunities to rediscover life’s joys, to seek out the deeper meanings below life’s fractured surfaces, something so many of us lose in the daily mayhem.
A love of giving
One of those opportunities was studying to become a civil celebrant, after within months of completing a short university course she was marrying some of her closest friends – literally. She also gave the formal service at the funeral of our much-loved grandmother, Agnes Hall, who died a few months before Toni did. Despite being incredibly sick, Toni flew to Brisbane, preparing and delivering the most powerful and moving memorial to another extraordinary human being. Agnes, who we knew affectionately as “Dup”, had spent much of her life struggling for social justice on many fronts, passing down to her children and grandchildren the priceless gift of humanity, and a deep love of giving.
There is so much more to say about Toni’s wonderful life, or more accurately, the many lives she lead in recent years, surrounded and supported by the seamless circle of love offered by family and friends. But if there is one thing I’d want to tell the world about Toni, it’s that she helped all of us through her illness, her dying and her death. Toni gave us all the precious gifts of her laughter, her optimism and her openness to the love and help we were offering her. Just as she treated her myotherapy patients with kindness and integrity, so she treated all of those she encountered through her sickness with warmth and honesty, a kind of love that touched everyone profoundly. Perhaps the healing interaction is not really a one-way street at all. Maybe those suffering can help those caring for them, as much as the other way round.
So if you know of any souls out there in need, tell them to look out for Toni’s shingle. Because in between body surfing the waves of time, and sipping her cosmic café lattés, (soy decaf) Toni will very likely have a few moments spare when the moon is full and bright, to set up her massage table. And despite her characteristic modesty, as the years tick away, she’ll feel a quiet sense of pride and joy every time the Toni Moynihan award is handed out to someone else skilled in the art of genuine human kindness.