The Bubble

Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to let go of fear and worry.

The internet can lead to exhaustion for cancer patients.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I spent an enormous amount of time searching the internet.  I wanted to know more about my diagnosis.  I wanted to know more about my treatment.  What I really wanted to know was how long I would live. My children at that time were 7 (son) and 13 (daughter) years of age.  I wanted to know if I would see my daughter graduate from high school or college.  I hoped to see my son graduate from grade school and high school, and if I was being optimistic, maybe I would get to see him graduate from college.  Seeing them get married, meeting my grandchildren, growing old with my wife were all things that I did not dare to hope for.

When I would search the internet I would search on my condition and I would search on the treatment protocols available.  Hours would go by as I went from one article of unfamiliar words and medical terms to another.  It was not uncommon to be at the computer for three and four hours.  I would often be surprised by how late it had gotten, when I finally took notice of the time.  There were times when what I would learn would console me, more often it would frighten me.  On more than one occasion I would see statistics that would startled me.  I learned that people with my diagnosis lived between nine and eleven years on average.  I learned that one of the treatments available to me was a stem cell transplant and that terrified me.

I would go to my doctor and chemo appointments with pages of questions.  My list was often dwarfed by my wife’s list of practical questions and concerns.  My first oncologist was a spectacular woman.  She is patient and kind.  She would answer all the questions that she could.  She encouraged me to limit my time searching the internet. She reminded me that the data that I found on the internet was old and based on interventions and research that was out of date.  New drugs were being developed, new protocols were being tested.

But I couldn’t stop.  I kept searching, kept reading and kept scaring myself until I discovered the bubble.  The bubble isn’t a place, it was me giving myself permission to stop.  To stop reading, stop searching the internet, to stop scaring myself and to stop thinking about cancer all the time.

I consciously made a choice to enter a “bubble of denial.”  I gave myself permission to not think about, talk about or even acknowledge that I had cancer.  I didn’t have to worry about the next round of treatment.  I didn’t have to think about how old my kids would be when I died.  I didn’t worry about whether my wife would have adequate resources for herself and the kids.  I didn’t worry about how my parents or my family would handle it if I died.  I didn’t worry about what the insurance would cover and what the insurance would not cover.  I gave myself permission to not think.  It was okay to take a break.

Our human capacity to adapt to our circumstances is enormous.  But sometimes we just need a break and I needed to give myself permission to take a break.

So whenever it got to be too much, I would enter the “bubble.”  Over time it was less of a conscious choice and more of a simple adaptation.  I would share this “practice” with others.  Some found it helpful, others lived in denial all the time and did not require this practice, while still others were unable to ever put down their burden.