Have you ever ignored something that needed to be done, but that stood a chance–however infinitesimal–of showing results that would be really, really bad. And so, because of your fear, you avoided it? Yeah. I’ve been doing that.
Finally, I committed to follow through with some medical tests I’d been putting off. I scheduled them for today, and, in anticipation of them, I was scared.
Logically, I have few reasons to be scared: I’m in excellent health, and I don’t have any unusual symptoms. However, I did go through all of these tests once before. The results then were not good.
In 1997 I was in my last semester as senior in college, and occasionally experienced tremendous chest pain. It was so bad at times that I taught myself pain management meditation techniques to deal with it. I was convinced it was just stress. Finally, three days after commencement (I was still up at school getting the last nine credits I needed to earn my diploma) I took myself to the hospital. I went through a few tests and was told to come back the next day.
Like the good, responsible, upstanding young man I was, I went back. I spent the entire day in the hospital, and at the end of the day, exhausted from non-stop tests, prodding, and lack of food, someone finally broke the news to me: cancer.
I had cancer. I was 22 years old, in great shape, and fearless. I was convinced I could do anything. The way I looked at it, I’d go back to Pittsburgh on the weekends for chemo–only a 3.5 hour drive–then back up to St. Bonaventure to finish my classes, get my diploma, and get on with my life. Fearless maybe, but definitely stupid, or at least ignorant to what lay ahead. Little did I know what I was in for with surgeries, transfusions, and chemo.
I’ll never forget the advice my oncologist gave me. It went something like this: “we’re going to kick the crap out of you with drugs, you just have to take it. That’s it. Just get through it.”
Certainly he was more sensitive than that, but in my mind, that’s what his advice amounted to that day. I did take it. I never, ever, not for a single day, hour, minute, or second did I ever take my eyes off the prize. I was going to beat cancer, and use the time to network to get my dream job on Wall Street in New York.
Spoiler Alert: I did.
Being with my fear
Through it all, the one thing I did not allow myself to feel was fear. Sure, there were moments of self-pity, extreme illness, and anger. But I never allowed in fear. It was contrary to my mission: eyes on the prize, at any cost. (Some days I wish–I beg–for that determination again. But I digress.)
Fast forward nearly 16 years when a new primary care physician suggests a some basic blood work, just to see where things are for me, and my tumor markers come back really high. We talk about it, it’s probably “normal” for me, but why take chances, so he lines up a battery of tests. I know these tests all too well: more blood work, examinations, ultrasound, and CT scan (with contrast). It’s what I went through before.
And here I am the night before thinking what if, what if, WHAT IF. And I’m scaring the crap out of myself. I’m 37 years old. I’m single. No kids. No legacy. And with a list of “things to do before I die” that’s even longer now than it was when I started it at 20.
What have I done with my life? Is this why I’m scared? Am I scared to die, or am I scared to die not having accomplished the greatness I set out to achieve?
Unlike the 22-year-old me, I allowed myself to sit with the fear. Unlike Muad’Dib, I did not let it pass through me, but I didn’t let it obliterate me either. I sat with it. I felt it. I owned it.
Sitting in the CT scanner brought back a flood of memories, too. I’ll be honest, that was the most scared I’d been in years. I allowed myself to feel afraid in that moment–not fear of the machine like some lousy Luddite, but of what would happen if these tests came back like the same ones of 16 years ago. In that moment, as the unnatural warmth of the contrast dye coursed through my veins, it was my fear manifest. I felt it boil in me. I owned it. I mastered it. And then I became it.
And for the first time in a long time. I felt alive. Very, very alive.
The tests are pending. The blood work came back as expected: tumor markers are high, but according to my doctors circa 1997, that’s to be expected. I’ll get the results of the scan next week, and if logic has anything to do with, they’ll come back just fine.
While my test results are pending, so is the rest of my life. The results will have a definite outcome. And now, so will my life.