How can we make the choices better?

Asking ‘what are the other choices’ is often the right question

The oncologist offered me a choice of do nothing (die within four to nine months) or have six cycles of a chemo cocktail called FEC-D (fuck-D my dear friend Barbara called it).

Yucky options both.

We asked for a week to research other treatments. We learned of one that, although it wasn’t yet in our health system’s protocol, had hopeful outcomes for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. We brought this third option and my oncologist agreed. After treatment ended new research confirmed our choice improved my chance of survival. Whew.

Maybe this is the wrong question: How can we make better choices?

What would happen if the question was: How can we make the choices better?

When my conflict coaching clients produce a choice of either X or Y, and then agonize over whether to do X or Y, I ask: “What are the other choices?”

Changing the question creates a new conversation

Here’s an example from the news: Canada’s federal politicians debated sex selection abortion; that is, should there be legislation banning termination of female embryos because of a cultural or other preference for sons? Debates included the usual pro-choice and anti-abortion arguments.

The better questions weren’t asked: how do we change mindsets so that girl children are as valued and loved as boy children? What would it take to have the gender of the child irrelevant in matters of wedding costs, succession planning, inheritance patterns, and looking after parents in their old age? If women were valued the same as men, domestic security and outcomes for all children would improve.

How to recognize wrong questions?

Here are two familiar choices I consider the wrong question:

Shall we have an intact environment or have jobs fuelling the economy?

Is it better to reduce taxes so people keep more money each month or fund adequate public services so people spend less on the service individually?

And so on. The best answer is – it depends, but the question is a forced choice.

Wrong questions limit the answer. They’re easy to spot in ‘either – or’ simplified extremes pitted against each other. Does asking better questions generate more (better?) options?

Problems reduced to forced choices often result in decision paralysis. Complex human values reduced to rigid simplicity make both choices feel wrong and decisions become hard.

Choice is a blessing if the options are good

Tuesday I go to my office after almost two years on disability. Am I excited to return to work I love? Yes. Scared? Absolutely! Did I enjoy being home? Yes. Which would I rather do – go to work or stay home? It stops at a simple yes because that question is limited. In this time of transition, I’m grateful to have a choice of two wonderful ways to spend my days.

Having choice is such a luxury. The wisdom in the cancer field is that patients involved in their treatment decisions do better. So, on my last weekend before going back to work, I’m sitting in the spring sunshine appreciating the privilege of having choices because of an expanded list of options.


Standing up to bullies or cancer with a power stance

During cancer treatment and ensuing brain fog I couldn’t read, write, or converse so TED’s short talks were perfect. I watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk again and again, thinking Amy’s – after so many viewings I feel I know her – research has so many uses, from addressing bullying, to healing, to upping my conflict competence. In nonlinear fashion, power poses cycled through my thoughts into brief ideas.


j0186176_2f5ce440Amy’s work continues the study of the mind-body connection, which has lots of science, wisdom and other evidence to back it up. That part isn’t new. During the cancer treatment, I had at least two dramatic experiences of this connection. I used my mind to ease a procedure that wasn’t going well. I was to have a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in a vein. The chemo was so toxic it would’ve blown out the vein had they injected it without the PICC. The nurse specialists tried to insert the PICC and the line hit a wrinkle in my vein, bending up instead of sliding through. A fifteen-minute procedure was into its first hour. The nurses looked more than a tad concerned. I meditated on the vein and the line slid into place. The nurse told Decker she reported this and suggested  patient meditation be included in the procedure manual. The second time came well into the chemo treatment. My blood was so low the oncologist scheduled a transfusion that would have delayed treatment a week. They said blood counts don’t come up with that chemo cocktail. I asked for time to use my Inner Healer, named Terry Gold, and then had another blood test. My count was up. The treatment went as scheduled.

The variation Amy and her co-researchers further of this knowledge of the interrelationship of minds and bodies is that body postures affect feelings of power. The (unfortunate in my opinion) name Amy has given this is Power Poses. I have other thoughts on overuses, misuses, and abuses of power, including that aggressive people affecting poses in the belief it will infuse them with power is indeed scary. However, the idea that even a few minutes of standing or sitting in a certain pose can change an interaction and how my mind functions also has positive applications. It would be great to have this information in the right hands.

Bullies are news again damn it, because of Amanda Todd. What, I wonder, would be the effect of teaching the victims how to stand and sit in order to stand up against their bullies? Bullies seem to know this instinctively and don’t need more power. They’re getting power over their victims already. (I wonder in what poses they stand and sit? Now there’s a research project begging to be undertaken.) Others could sure use some help in feeling more inner power. Could bystanders be empowered to stand up to the bullies?

The body healing the mind has opened up new ideas for how I can stay in remission, the ways I can help my clients, and where I can improve my relationships with others. My conflict coaching clients stand (pun intended) to benefit when I suggest they observe how they and the other person stand and sit alone or in relation to each other, both in calm times, and when locked in conflict with each other. And, look for me to take a stand of power against my personal bully – triple negative breast cancer recurrence – on those now rare occasions when I’m tired and have bleak thoughts about my long-term survivorship. I’ve added body over mind poses to my toolkit of Inner Healer and mind over body strategies to overcome those thoughts.