Trying not to fall into the FEAR pit

You know how when you get concerning news you can go straight into anxiety?

Well, that’s been my rollercoaster for a couple of months.

It started with a concerning EKG at my cardiologist’s office in February. She set me up for an echocardiogram to see if there was something that needs attention. Plus she wanted a calcium test to make sure I don’t have calcium buildup in my heart. I had both tests on the same day.

The day after those two tests I got a call from the cardiologist’s office saying the echocardiogram showed my EF (ejection fraction, which if I understand correctly is how well the heart is pumping) at 45 percent when 50 to 70 percent is normal. Mine was at 60 percent five years ago when I had a stress echocardiogram. So she wanted me to have a MUGA scan, which is more precise than the echocardiogram.

Then the next day I got another call from her office saying that my calcium was zero, which is what you want, but that the scan detected a 4mm lung nodule. The doctor who read it commented that it “was almost certainly benign. If the patient has any cancer or smoking history, short-term interval follow-up would be recommended 3-6 months.”

As you likely know, I’m a breast cancer survivor. There’s always a concern that cancer will return.

And I think of my cancer treatments which involved 33 radiation sessions on the left side, where the nodule is. And the radiation hit a little bit of my heart. Which makes me wonder if that radiation damaged either my heart or lungs. Or both.

So after all of this news, I could feel the anxiety increasing. My mind can go quickly to worst-case scenario.

But I also know that I can keep my mind from going there.

I can actively avoid the fear pit.

The way to do that is to focus on the present. To be aware of the little things that make life enjoyable. And to sit with your fears and let yourself feel them — and then let them go.

When I was on my cancer journey 10 years ago I worked on letting go of fears. I reminded myself that anything can happen on any day. That life can be completely turned upside down in a moment. And that we are so scared of that happening that we pretend that we are in control.

But deep down we know we’re not.

Times like this remind us. I choose to look at this time of challenge as an opportunity.

So . . . back to the testing. I had the MUGA scan two weeks ago (my, it seems SO much longer ago than that). The scan results were available a few days after it, but I couldn’t access them until I called and got someone to put them into a category so that I could look at them. My EF came in at 39.8 percent, even lower than the echocardiogram showed. I thought I’d get a call from my cardiologist’s office pretty soon.

Well, it took a week.

Finally, yesterday I got the call. My cardiologist wants another test because she doesn’t know why the EF is low. So now I’ll have a PET stress scan on May 9. That means more waiting. And hoping for an answer.

There’s something in us that wants resolution. We’re not good at waiting.

But I’m choosing to find this waiting period as an opportunity to practice being present. It’s spring, a beautiful season, which is totally unaffected by my worries. I can focus on the beauty of the season.

I can focus on my daily rituals. On the comforts I enjoy. On yoga and movement and having a body that works pretty well, even with its many aches and pains. Even with a heart that’s not quite up to snuff.

Oh, and I also wait to know more about the lung nodule. I was looking forward to talking with my primary care physician about it and getting his recommendation at an already-scheduled appointment. His nurse had called and left a message saying he’d talk with me about the lung nodule, and she mentioned follow-up in three months. But the day before the appointment I got a call putting off this appointment until May because my doctor was having to be out of the office.

I decided that waiting that long was just too much for me. So I went to another doctor, and she said just what the doctor who read the scan said. Follow up with a CT in three to six months. Which aligns with the message from my primary care physician. I did read online, and a lung biopsy isn’t recommended with a nodule this small. The recommendation is to follow up in three to six months to be sure it’s not growing. I opted for three months instead of waiting six.

So I’m waiting on yet another heart scan. And then I’ll wait on the results. While I also wait for a CT scan in July.

Lots of waiting. No closure.

But I’m actively not falling into the fear pit.

It takes some work. Some awareness when I feel the anxiety.

I have tools for dealing with that. Tools I didn’t have when I was younger.

Now I’m much more able to get my balance, walk around the fear pit, and enjoy life day by day, one day at a time.

We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. We’re not even guaranteed the next moment. But I’ll try to be present to the moments I have and not live in fear of a possible future.

I know that one day I will die.

We all will.

But until then we are on this earth where there are lovely seasons and wonderful people and pets, plants, and wild animals and so very much we can enjoy.

I resolve to enjoy the lovely parts and not dread (too much) the challenging parts.

I believe this life is about growth, about learning, about realizing that beauty and love are the foundations.

About not falling into the fear pit because in a pit we can’t enjoy beauty. And it’s hard to feel love there.

I’m going to stay out of the pit.

So what if I’m “waiting”?

I’m still breathing and surrounded by beauty and friends and family.

I’m truly blessed. And when I feel anxious, I simply remind myself to look around, be present, breathe, be grateful.

And stay out of the pit!

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