The “What If” Syndrome
Trying to ignore the lasting worries
By Cynthia R. Nelson

This continues a series of personal notes from Cynthia Nelson, 35, of Moorestown, who was diagnosed with ovarian and cervical cancer in June 2005. Cynthia bravely shares with us her experiences, thoughts and impressions each month.


Since the end of my official treatments, I’ve had doctor visits every 12 weeks. “All looks good,” they tell me. But, side effects still linger. You would think I’d be accustomed to my various ailments by now. But alas, once you’re diagnosed with cancer your mind is adrift with worry at every new ache and pain.

My shoulder hurts. Could it be a pulled muscle from lifting a too-heavy box or is it a metastases? My stomach’s upset and I’m bloated. Too much coffee? Perhaps, but maybe it’s a tumor?!? I can’t stop worrying.

I decided a change of scenery might help so I ventured to Florida to visit some friends. The beach certainly helped my skin tone but did nothing to calm my fears. I was still having a lot of pain and bloating. It was similar to how I’d felt when the doctors first discovered the ovarian cyst that led me down this path. And, according to the scale, I had gained five pounds in a week. Yikes!

I fretted. I pondered. A week went by, and I still didn’t feel better. I had a tough time relaxing.

I decided to call a former coworker, Carol, who now works at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Carol is one of those people who, like me, worries. She’ll ponder, just like I will, every possible scenario and cause for pain she’s having. I knew she’d at least listen to my ailments. Well, Carol took it one step further. While I was in town she took my medical history to a doctor at the clinic – the head of the gynecologic oncology department.

He didn’t know me, but he reviewed my case and recommended a CAT scan, a chest x-ray and several other tests now, rather than wait for my next follow-up appointment in August. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. He just wanted me to be comfortable.

I called my physician in Jersey and begged and pleaded to have a prescription for the scans faxed to me. They were.

While I waited for the results I tried to amuse myself. I talked to one of Dave’s friends who is rather spiritual. She suggested some pampering. I got a manicure and pedicure and then I did what any woman would do – I shopped.

But I didn’t shop just for clothes. I shopped for a new hairstyle. Since I ended up staying in Florida longer than expected I was in a bit of quandary when it came to my hair. It had grown – out. My head was a mess of curls. When pulled straight it measured just shy of three inches. But it was so twisted that it was impossible to brush let alone style. I let Carol talk me into meeting her hairdresser.

Allecia, younger and hipper than I could ever pretend to be, saw my hair as a challenge. She sat with me for almost 45 minutes, trying to decide how to tame my tresses. Finally, inspiration struck. Or perhaps it was me saying “Go ahead, do what you want. It’s not like it won’t grow back.” Ha!

Allecia washed, snipped, and foiled. She tamed my curls a bit with color and hid the gray that was finally making an appearance. In the end she unveiled a lighter, brighter Cindy. I’m still not 100 percent comfortable with my new ‘do but everyone else seems to think I look very stylish.

By the time this issue went to production I still hadn’t received the results from my tests. “If anything were wrong they’d have called,” people tell me. But not knowing is sometimes worse, I counter. As I write I try very hard not to think about that. Suddenly I hear Dave’s friend in my head. “All in divine time.”

I smile. She’s right. The results will come when they come. They will be what they are and I can’t change them. I realize that I should stop wasting precious energy what if-ing everything and simply enjoy the moment. So check in next month and I’ll let you know what, if anything, is afflicting me. Right now I’m going fishing with Dave.

August 2006
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