Naikan on Treatment for Cancer

by Kara Jacobs

Every now and then, I have to do a Naikan Intervention on myself. I've found this most useful in those situations which repeatedly lead me to create my own little cloud of self-pity and resentment.

For example, almost seven years post-chemotherapy, I am one of the few people who has sustained permanent damage to my bone marrow -- my bone marrow is unable to produce sufficient red blood cells, leading to a specialized type of anemia. The treatment consists of shots of a human growth factor to stimulate the bone marrow to make these cells.

Now, you might think I would be grateful to be alive, receiving these shots and otherwise in good health... and I am. But I can also easily work myself up into a fit of anger and resentment. Why me? Why do I have to be the one in a million this happens to? None of my other cancer buddies have to do this! I hate returning to the infusion center, where I got my treatment for shots! I'll have to do this for the rest of the life! It's not fair! I'm Permanently Damaged! I get so tired! Nobody understands how I suffer!

So when I came in for my shot, I decided to do Naikan on my situation. Here is my reflection:

What I was given: I am alive to receive this treatment; I am alive to receive this treatment because my mother gave birth to me and my parents nurtured and protected me; I am alive to receive this treatment because a surgeon was able to remove my cancer; I am able to walk, talk, think, see, and breathe without pain; there are trees for me to see, and flowers, and fish, and spider webs, and so much more; my car brings me to the appointment; my medical insurance pays for most of this expensive treatment, and my partner pays a monthly amount to co-cover me on his insurance and that pays most of the rest; my job allows me the flexibility to take time off to come in every month; there are magazines and a puzzle and comfortable seats in the waiting room, and bottled water and hot water for tea and coffee as well; the technician skillfully inserts a needle into my needle-wary vein, wraps my arm in my choice of colored gauze; a computer miraculously outputs the results in minutes, the nurse smiles at me, takes my blood pressure, and answers my questions; I am the beneficiary of this marvelous medication, and all the research that went into developing it; I am treated in pleasant, clean surroundings with sterile equipment; the nurse covers the site of my shot with a Bugs Bunny patterned Band-Aid, and makes and gives me a calendar with my future appointments on it; a receptionist uses her computer to schedule the appointments; someone has left little hand-made pillows in a basket for patients to take home with them if they so choose; somebody built the stairs, which I now take down to the floor level of the building; the parking lot is paved and easily accessible; my oncologist received training and knowledge from many centuries of observation, research, and experience, and in turn passes on the benefit of this expertise to me; the traffic lights helped me navigate safely to the appointment.

What trouble I caused: I use up valuable resources (gasoline) to get to my appointment, no doubt causing some pollution on the way; I contribute to the wear and tear on the highway and roads; I contribute to the congestion on the freeway, and may have slowed somebody down; I take up a parking spot rather near the entrance, thus occupying a space that somebody who is more disabled than me needs more than I do; I also take up a chair in the oncology waiting room, as well as time and resources for my care that might serve other people; I create extra work for my doctor, the receptionists, the technicians, and the nurses, and also for the people who process my insurance claims; my partner worries about me; my partner has to pay extra to cover my care; my care may contribute to raising the rates of others in my medical group; my doctor is somewhat perplexed and upset that my bone marrow still has not regenerated; I am not at work while I'm doing this, meaning I am not readily available to my clients for this period of time; my supervisor may have to deal with a crisis on my caseload because I am not available for this period of time; I am creating trash (Band-Aid, needles, etc.) which uses up resources and with which somebody has to deal; other patients may feel bad because I am relatively healthy, have all my hair, can walk, and in general am doing well, thus serving as a living reminder that life is not always fair.

What did I give: This is speculation, but I suspect that the staff enjoys seeing someone come in who looks healthy and is doing well over-all; I see my favorite nurse from the old chemo days and give her a hug; I'm contributing to job security for more than one person; perhaps being on the receiving end of services makes me a better, more compassionate social worker (so this is really something that I have been given, too!); I chat and laugh with an elderly gentleman in the waiting room, and I believe this cheers him up and helps him pass the time; I am gathering information for a short essay on "Emergency Naikan", which might actually inspire somebody else to do their very own Naikan Intervention!

More about Naikan...

  1. What is Naikan?
  2. The Importance of Self-reflection
  3. How to Practice Naikan Reflection
  4. Examples of Naikan Reflection