The Placebo of Ernest the Life Coach

Sitting beside my friend Ernest we chatted the lazy morning away. We were in old town Saint Charles enjoying delicious coffee. Little birds scurried along begging for bread crumbs. Golden rays slipped through the fluffy cloud blankets creating kaleidoscope lightshows in the street.

Beside me was Ernest, he had a lean build halfway between a runner and a weekend warrior. His intensely bored eyes stared into the distance. He was tense and taut as a bow. “What did you think about the book I suggested?”

Watching the steam rise from my cup of coffee I placed my hand over the delightful heat of the freshly brewed deliciousness. Raising my eyes to his. “Oh yeah, the Mind Matter, You Are the Placebo book? It was boring with very little substance.”

Crossing his arms, Ernest’s face reddened as his brow furrowed.

I took a deep breath and continued speaking. “It was like four-hundred pages of pseudoscience garbage.  I get what the intent of the book is, but it’s the kind of message that can lead seriously ill people astray.”

Ernest shifted in his seat, his body movements sharpened, and began speaking faster. “I can’t fucking stand people like you. How can you just discount and dismiss what you read?” His words boiled with anger.

My eyebrow raised, I assumed he took my review as a criticism of him. I was kind of weirded out by his reaction. To ease the discomfort of the scene I raised the mug to my lips and took a sip; it was my favorite, highlander grog. Thankfully it had cooled enough for me to enjoy its exquisite flavor.

I looked at him, then back at the birds and the dark river in the distance. It took a few minutes of silence for his agitation to subside. As the air cleared his grimace lowered and his arms uncrossed.

You know I could’ve charged you when we first met?” He said with a stern face. “But, I value our time too much, so I didn’t…” Slowly he twisted his face into a half smile.  “…and I know you need our meetings.”

I shrugged and took a sip of my coffee. “I wouldn’t have hired you, so it wouldn’t have mattered.”

His half smile curled into a full fake smile.

Watching his reaction, I continued. “I’m sorry… I don’t pay for advice or for people to be my friend.” I said holding my hands on the sides of my warm mug.

A few moments passed. Ernest stretched his leg out, then sat back in his chair. The pallor of his face started to redden again as he pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes. “So, what’s up, how are things?”

Eh, pretty rough, recovering from chemotherapy has been slow and hard.”

He stared off into space then back at me. “You know, the only reason you haven’t recovered is because you choose to stay sick. Right?”

Excuse me?” I could feel a warm anger in my stomach.

You’re choosing to be sick. As soon as you want to get better you will.” He paused for a moment. “That’s what Joe Dispenza is talking about right? This is all mind over matter.”

That’s not how it works, that’s not how chemotherapy or cancer works.” I was getting angry, but I was doing my best to remain calm.

That is how it works; if you tell your cells what to do they heal. If you chose to be sick, you stay sick. You have chosen to stay sick. Right? It is your decision; all of this is your decision. You’ve chosen to stay sick, just like you chose to get cancer.” His tone grated on my soul, like being stabbed by the splintered uneven edge of a broken spear.

My blood began to boil. How could this mother fucker actually believe this garbage? No one chooses to get cancer; no one wants to be sick.

He continued to explain. “I only get sick when I want to. I’ve been telling my wife and daughter this a long time. To prove it I told my wife I was choosing to get sick and I got sick. She used to have headaches all the time, now I’ve taught her how to choose not to have them, she doesn’t get them anymore. My daughter doesn’t listen though; she’s stuck like you and won’t accept she is in control of her health.”  Ernest’s smile and eyes became wide for a moment before continuing. “You are the placebo, if you want it hard enough, you can have anything you want.” He paused for a moment and looked at his phone. “I have an appointment, give me a hug brother, I’ll see you next week.”

I don’t like to see bridges burned, but I do like see boundaries enforced. To have a relationship with someone we must build a bridge from our island to theirs. It requires upkeep and understanding built from a foundation of empathy and respect. That day he was in the business of setting fires. There are certain things we don’t burn, just like there are certain things we don’t say. It felt like he was in the mood to set my island on fire, so I turned him toward the bridge. He first started by melting and discarding all his understanding, then set flame to empathy, and at the very end, once the bridge began to crumble and fall all my respect for him was gone. I could have stopped the conversation, told him how offensive his statements were, but why put out a flame when the arsonist is just going to set it ablaze again anyways?

Tell me about this book.

In the book: You are the Placebo, by Joe Dispenza he shared how he willed his vertebrae to regenerate after being crushed[1]. Where is the evidence? His followers claim things like x-rays and documentation aren’t needed to prove their prophet’s powers.

How did he heal his bones? Dispenza claims it was by becoming the placebo. In his words “The key is making your inner thoughts more real than the outer environment, because then the brain won’t know the difference between the two and will change to look as if the event has taken place. If you’re able to do this successfully enough times, you’ll transform your body and begin to signal new genes in new ways, producing epigenetic changes—just as though the imagined future event were real. And then you can walk right into that new reality and become the placebo.”[2

I have no clue what that meant, and I am sure he didn’t either. This is a common trait of followers and practitioners of pseudo-medicine, they love stringing together long unintelligible sentences.

Can we use the placebo effect to heal our body?

Harriet Hall, MD wrote: “Placebos are widely misunderstood. They don’t have any objective healing powers. Placebos have never been shown to change the course of any kind of illness; they have only been shown to temporarily improve subjective complaints like pain and nausea. You have a misconception about placebo surgery; no, it does nothing to activate the self-healing powers of the body. Placebo surgery is never used clinically for treatment. It has only been used as a placebo control in scientific studies, where it has been useful in demonstrating that a particular surgical procedure was ineffective and should be abandoned.”[3]

Harriet A. Hall is a retired family physician, former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, and health advocate who writes about alternative medicine and quackery for Skeptic magazine, Skeptical Inquirer and Science-based Medicine.

 

Mistakes and Fairness

Mistakes and Fairness

Should the sum of our existence be calculated by a small window of time or a few mistakes? Do you believe every good deed ought to be dismissed because of a few decisions?

We all make mistakes and decisions that lead to disaster. No one was given an instruction manual or granted a good guide. Each and everyone of us are bumbling through life for the first time.

If we want fairness we must be fair to others. We achieve this by forming a relationship with Forgiveness, Wisdom and Hope. Forgiveness helps us ease the ferocity of vengeance; Wisdom, especially empathy mutes the sharp edge of judgement; and Hope reminds us we can learn from our mistakes.

Pain can blind us

The world is an insane place and there seems to be no end in sight. It spins us round and round, twisting our gut till we are about to throw up. With the challenge of life, you’d think we’d be more understanding, but people hurt so much they are blinded by their pain.

We get kicked over and over even after being knocked to our knees. When the assault stops we are granted a reprieve, but we must raise our fists for the next beating. With so much strife it becomes hard to fight. Its difficult to give a pass when we feel like shattered glass.

I know how much it hurts to feel broken, but we cannot close our eyes. If we do, we lose more than magnificent beauty and infinite wonder. We lose our empathy and ability to see. We must hold onto our wisdom and continue to use empathy. The more empathetic and understanding we are, the more forgiving the world will be.

Forgiveness is not Forgetfulness

Forgiveness is a spiritual experience and a relationship with our inside zones. It’s a philosophy of responsibly letting go. A decision to walk away from suffering to come closer to peace. It’s a path of personal protection and a barrier against bitterness.

Its important to know Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. If someone violates, hurts or wrongs us, we should protect ourselves. Do what needs to be done, but don’t desire their destruction. Stop the cycle of bad by treating them better than they treated us. Let our abusers see how they hurt us and give them a chance grow from it.

Vengeance is easy, but imagine what kind of life we would be living if someone enacted vengeance on us for every wrong or crime we committed?

My message here is to be fair to others. Do to them as we want done to us. Be understanding while protecting ourselves. If we must protect ourselves, our goal should be to end the threat and receive fair compensation.

I know what it feels like to feel pain, it can be terrible, but making someone else hurt isn’t going to take away ours. When we strip vengeance from justice we can give Forgiveness and live with peace.

We can learn from our mistakes

At the end of the day I believe everyone can learn from their mistakes. Every day I take a misstep, sometimes I stumble, and if I fall I hope someone is rooting for me to get back up. We all make mistakes and decisions that lead to disaster, everyone has hurt someone else, and no one is perfect. Have faith that others can become the better version of themselves.

 

Hold onto the light

Empathy an Intro

I think its easy to attack without considering the consequences of our actions. It is easy to say something is bad simply because it fails to meet our paradigm of thought. Critical thought is hard, to stay on course with its edicts we must follow its teachings and consider others. It teaches us to explore our thoughts and feelings. To develop an understanding of our ideology and find ways to bridge our world with others. It teaches us to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. To imagine what it is like to be them, so we can treat them fairly based on their circumstance.

What good does any of this do if we don’t know how to apply these teachings to our daily lives? An expert isn’t born, to be proficient in a skill we must practice. Practice is more than memorization, it is exploration and experimentation as well. We can sit behind old books all day learning what the dead say about body language and tonality, but this equates to nothing if we are unwilling to explore our skills.

What is empathy? “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.” [1]

How do we use the skill of empathy? How can I imagine what it would be like if the situation could never conceivably happen to me? Empathy requires imagination, you must have the ability to see something that doesn’t exist. If imagining something like this is outside of your capacity I suggest exploring a few new hobbies. Consider going to your local hobby store to join a role-playing group, get involved in a game where you can play a character and experience an imaginary world. Perhaps find a local writing group and explore fictional writing or experiment with art. If your mind is no longer in touch with your heart it will be very difficult imagining what it would be like to be in another person’s situation.

Mind Tools presents a good primer to practice empathy.

Empathy at Work [2]

  1. Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  2. Validate the other person’s perspective.
  3. Examine your attitude.
  4. Listen
  5. Ask what the other person would do.  

I would suggest giving their interpretation of empathy a good read, you can find this article at: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/EmpathyatWork.htm.

 

To empathize with someone, we need to imagine we are them. What would it be like to be them in this situation. If you were them, how would you feel? If you were them, how would you want to be treated?


[1] “Empathy” Dictionary. Cambrdge Dictionary. Web. 12 December 2017. < https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/empathy>

[2] “Empathy at Work” Mind Tools. Web. 12 December 2017. < https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/EmpathyatWork.htm.

Empathy

Empathy – Boundaries – Personal Advocacy

Empathy is essential when establishing and enforcing our boundaries. When we use the word empathy we are referring to intellectual empathy. What does that mean?

“Understanding the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others to genuinely understand them… It correlates with the ability to accurately reconstruct the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. This trait also requires that we remember occasions when we were wrong, despite an intense conviction that we were right, and consider that we might be similarly deceived in a case at hand.” [1]

A challenging but useful exercise is to imagine yourself as someone else. Let your eyes find someone nearby, now look at their shoes. Imagine what it would feel to be wearing those right now. How do you think they would feel? Now think about someone you know, perhaps someone who’s hurt your feelings recently. Ignore your feelings and imagine being them. What do you think they were feeling at the time when they were hurting you? Why do believe they were feeling this? What if you’re wrong? What else could they have been feeling at this moment?

We are going to do an exercise, first I want you to write down the premise they were acting from when the event occurred. Next, what assumptions might they have been operating from and finally what do you think their thoughts, opinions or plans were?

Intellectual empathy is an effective critical thinking tool. When implemented correctly it serves as a valuable resource to establish and enforce personal boundaries. It also helps us identify the walls of others. With this information we improve our ability to treat others fairly while encouraging them to do the same.

[1] Paul, Richard, and A. J. A. Binker. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2012.

Empathy – Critical Awareness

Empathy

When empathy becomes reality, your empathy has failed you.  Watching someone experience something is not the same as experiencing it.  This goes both ways.  It is not fair to claim you know something, when you don’t.  This post is about exploring the reality of cancer, our perception, empathy and our roles.

Empathy

Perception

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend.  She said that I wasn’t appreciating her and that I haven’t given her that appreciation for six months.  I told her that the reason was because I was going through chemotherapy.  She said that chemo was no excuse, then continued to say that she knows what chemo was like because her father went through it.  Her father was able to make her feel appreciated while he was going through treatment, so I should have too.

I told her that chemo was not an excuse, that it was a reality.  That for the last six months I’ve faced the most terrifying and painful experience of my life.  Things that she has never experienced and has no true understanding of.  That she would never understand what it feels like until she’s gone through chemotherapy (something I hope she never does).  I told her that I’m not her father, boyfriend and she is not my daughter and my role in her life is not as a significant other or parent.  That it sucks to feel unappreciated and as her friend I wished her feelings were not hurt.

Empathy

Friends do things that we may sometimes consider deplorable.  Her comment could easily be considered as such.  In the moment I was calm and didn’t allow it to hurt my feelings.  Later my feelings were hurt by it a little bit, but I vented to my significant other.  Then those bad feelings dissolved.

Friendship is about more than just the good times.  Sometimes we say things when we are really stressed that hurts those close to us.  I believe the fair thing to do here is to accept what they say as stress and move on.

Roles

If you have a loved one with cancer, it doesn’t mean you know what the experience of cancer is like.

Just because you…

  • have walked with someone in their cancer journey doesn’t mean that you know what its like to have cancer.
  • watched someone go through chemotherapy doesn’t mean you know what its like to go through chemotherapy.
  • know someone who went had surgery, doesn’t mean you know what its like to go through surgery.
  • know someone who had radiation treatment, doesn’t mean you know what its like to experience radiation treatment.

If you have cancer, it doesn’t mean you know what its like to watch someone you love suffer through cancer.

Just because you…

  • have cancer doesn’t mean that you know what its like to watch someone go through cancer.
  • went through chemotherapy doesn’t mean you know what its like to watch a loved one go through chemotherapy.
  • had surgery, doesn’t mean you know what its like to be there for someone going through surgery.
  • went through radiation treatment, doesn’t mean you know what its like to watch someone go through radiation treatment.

If you would like to read about the journey of cancer feel free to continue your exploration by clicking on this link.

I feel like garbage

Garbage

garbage

Where am I am today?  I am in a I fucking hate this life kind of mood.  I feel like utter shit!  I am tired of feeling this way.  I can’t feel my fingers and toes, earlier I couldn’t feel my face.  I am stressed beyond imagination and I feel like all of my hopes and dreams have been stolen from me.  I feel robbed.  I feel like I am living in this shell of a body, I am so angry.  I try and I push and I do my best to make the best of every moment.  Times like these, times like these long moments I despise the cards that have been dealt to me.  It fucking sucks, there is no other way to describe it.

We must become advocates, all of us

Becoming your own advocate means you must learn how to critically research and develop critical thinking skills.  I consider personal advocacy to be an inner boundary (something I will discuss later).

Being your own Advocate means you must be a leader.  You have the break the mold of putting your life into the hands of strangers you know nothing about. These people should be working for you and not the other way around.

We should be interviewing these people, they should be earning our trust, we are their boss, there should be no point in our treatment plan that they are our boss. They are the people we are using to get a service done, if their ego or inability gets in the way of achieving your goals then they are failing in the duties they were hired for.  When this happens it is time for you to fire them.

If you hired someone to fix your motor vehicle would you hire them again if they failed to fix the part you paid them to repair?  Would you hire them again if they refused to follow your instructions?  No, of course you wouldn’t, so why are we shelling out thousands and thousands of dollars to health care professionals who are not meeting or exceeding our expectations.

Something has got to change and the only way I can see that change happening is if we have a greater understanding of our care.  If we take charge of our treatment plan and learn how to say NO, we can become a true advocate for our own health.  We have to be our own advocate.  This WE is more than just cancer patients, this is everyone.  Everyone has to be made aware of how to demand the service they deserve because they are paying for it, the service they deserve because they are a human being.

 

What does this mean? Part 1 (Introduction)

What does this mean, what does that mean, these are questions I found myself asking along the way.  Often I would see lists of abbreviations and acronyms that represented critical bits of information that did not exist within my vernacular. There is so much information in the medical world, it is easy for anyone to get lost in its sea of vast knowledge.

This series focuses on the abbreviations, acronyms and terms found on the different documents we see through our cancer journey.  This series is less entertaining and more informative, each post will have the subject matter after the part number in parenthesis.  My goal is to provide a comprehensive and easy to locate list to help you understand the difficult road ahead of you.

I want to leave off saying that I am not a doctor or a physician.  These definitions and explanations reflect my own personal research on the topic.  You should consult your health care provider when deciding your medical needs.  My goal is to give you some frame work to help facilitate those conversations.

Time – A New Universe of Cancer

Time

Time dripped like wax from a candle as I sat in the waiting.  The chair became a distant thought as an old man slowly ambled in front of me.  He moved sluggishly like he was in a daze.  I was in the oncology department so his movement wasn’t out of place.  After my treatments I typically moved like a zombie.

There was something about his steps that was different, he was anxious, nervous perhaps.  My doctor nearly bumped into the old man and a nurse asked him to stand out of the way.  He started to speak, he said that he wanted to ask the doctor one more question.  His voice was low, it had a worry-full energy to it.  I watched a small group of people walk by while noticing the man shift his weight back and forth between his two feet.

Once the commotion passed the nurse summoned the doctor.  The older gentleman had a stutter to his voice as he spoke.  “Is it years, a year, how much time do I have left?”

The doctor stood rigid, his eyes staring coldly.

In the pause the old man filled the space, I could feel the wary anticipation in the his voice. “A year?”

“Months, maybe months.”  The doctor replied with an almost robotic tone.

The old man’s head lowered.  I could hear his voice break as he repeated back to the doctor.  “I have months to live, how many months?”

“Maybe two or three.”  The doctor said before walking away.

I watched the old man take few steps, his feet sliding slowly across the tile floor. His shoulders slumped and I could hear him whisper to himself. “Months…”

If you would like to continue reading about my journey through cancer feel free to click on this link.

 

Neuropathy Sensations?

The enchanting music of Enya played from the bedroom nearby.  The beautiful sound of water dripping into the soothing, hot bath was intoxicating.  It was my first bath since I had my lung removed, the sensation was a heavenly experience. The water was a cocktail of skin nourishing concoctions and detoxing medicine. The dim light of the room was romancing my soul, I could feel my spirit begin to rejuvenate.  I ran my finger tip along the surface of my palm, the texture was exquisite.  These are the moments I take myself back to as I sit here thinking about the past.

These sensations are a distant memory, now my finger tips are numb, they tingle with the sharpness of needles.  When I slide my finger across the surface of my palm the sensations are delayed, lacking the sweetness of touch.  My feet are like rubber shoes and burn like they are being licked with fire.

These are the haunting reminders of the lingering ghosts of chemo.  There are no small prices to pay when it comes to cancer.  Everything you do, every choice you make comes at a cost.  Though I sit here experiencing these less than pleasant sensations I do not regret the choices I have made.

These sensations are gifts, they are tools, they are a reminder of the places I have been, the worlds I have discovered.