Saturday, April 17, 2010

Four Questions (not the Passover kind)

I realize I have not posted for over a month.  I got to the point in the past month that I really had nothing to say other than to whine about how sick I was.  Cycle 4 was particularly bad.  My doctor took pity on me and changed the protocol.  Instead of 6 infusions per cycle, I now only have one and it is by IV only.  I am half way through cycle 5 under this new protocol and feel significantly better although still not well.  I am physically weak--fatigued and easily out of breath with the smallest activity. (Think walking up the stairs, or lifting up the comforter).  I am 30 pounds lighter but with very little muscle.  I still have nausea but not anywhere as severe as the earlier cycles.  Next month is my last cycle and then a recovery period to try to build up my strength before I return to work in mid-June.  Then my life begins again, although with this pesky problem of not knowing if and when the cancer will come back.

So what have I been doing?  Watching TV, reading magazines and generally, as my friend Carol said about herself, whimpering a lot.  I spend a lot of time just in quietude trying to live in the moment.  And some of the TV and reading I have done looks at psychological process for addressing negative thoughts which, of course, tend to fly around when you have cancer.

One show I watched on PBS was Daniel Amen's Magnificent Mind At Any Age.  In the show, Amen talks about his idea that you can defeat automatic negatives thoughts (cutely called ANTS) by addressing four questions.  A blog by Walter Reade lays out these questions:

Here’s a technique that Dr. Amen gives to help you decide whether or not you should believe these thoughts. Ask yourself these four questions:
  1. Is the thought true?
  2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do I react when I believe that thought?
  4. Who would I be without the thought? Or how would I feel if I didn’t have the thought?
Once you answer the four questions, take the original thought and completely turn it around to its opposite (for example, “I’ll never be successful” becomes “I will be successful”) and ask yourself the same four questions!

Yesterday I was reading an article in Oprah Magazine by a woman with stage 4 breast cancer who interviewed a woman named Byron Katie.  Interestingly Byron Katie also has four questions to address negative thoughts.  From her website :

The Four Questions

In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround. For example, the first thought that you might question on the above Worksheet is "Paul doesn't listen to me." Find someone in your life about whom you have had that thought, and let's do The Work. "[Name] doesn't listen to me":
 Is it true?
 Can you absolutely know that it's true?
 How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
 Who would you be without the thought?
Then turn it around (the concept you are questioning), and don't forget to find three genuine, specific examples of each turnaround.

Look familiar?  Interestingly,  Katie claims to have created these four questions, which she calls "The Work" in 1986.  She also claims to have discovered The Work all at once as a revelation which transformed her.  Amen on the other hand seems to have come more recently to these 4 questions.  I am not aware whether he credits Katie for the questions in his books.  He does not in his lectures for PBS.  And it would appear from his CV  that he was studying hypnosis in 1986.  

Leaving aside the origins of the 4 questions,  it would seem that both of these people are part of the positive thinking movement that Barbara Ehrenreich disdains. (See my December 6 blog entry )  I am a bit more sympathetic to positive thinking these days since negativity does not help when you have cancer.  I just think you need to be realistic.  Positive thoughts may not stop my cancer (notwithstanding what the Wellness Community believes) but it will make my life more in the present, no matter how much time I have left.  Under the circumstances, I am not sure I can do anything else.

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