Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Getting Past the Worry

Tuesday, 15 Jul 2014 03:31 PM

By Ronni Gordon

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There’s an old Jewish folk saying that’s close to my heart. It goes: Don't worry about tomorrow; who knows what will befall you today?"
 
My mother lived by those words, and I’ve followed in her footsteps.
 
Believe me, if you’re the kind of person who is inclined to worry, having had cancer only makes it worse. In my case, the anxiety starts to rise prior to every doctor’s appointment.
 
For example, a few weeks ago I showed my dermatologist a spot on my right arm. It looked like a tiny volcano. She said it was either a keratoacanthoma — which is a noncancerous lesion — or a squamous cell carcinoma. In order words, skin cancer.
 
Because it’s hard to tell the difference between the two, my dermatologist performed “scoop biopsy,” removing the entire spot so that it could be tested.
 
It was indeed positive. Luckily, the malignancy was just on the skin, and is therefore gone for good.
 
But after I got those results, I turned my attention to my left arm, where I had a similar lesion. I had shown it to another doctor, but he dismissed it as a keratoacanthoma. Now, after the positive result from my dermatologist, I suspected that my left arm might have another squamous cell.
 
I called up to get another appointment — along with more anxiety.
 
These kinds of lesions sprout up on me due to a combination of sun exposure, chemotherapy, and prednisone, which compromises your immune system.
 
Meanwhile, a friend of mine got a squamous cell cancer on her tongue, and recently heard the bad news that the cancer had spread through her body.
 
I wondered, “What if by the first doctor not removing it, my own squamous cell cancer has gotten into my bloodstream and is silently attacking my organs?”
 
Of course, my rational mind says that the cell on my right arm was “in situ,” or on the skin, and the one on my left arm is probably the same thing. But when you’re a lifelong worrier, your imagination can get away from you.
 
We worriers need to try our hardest to stop the runaway train of imagination. We need to make constant reality checks, and then take a few deep breaths to cleanse our minds of the residue of worry.
 
The inverse of that old Jewish folk saying is especially helpful in these cases: If you waste your time worrying about something that might happen, you’re just making yourself live through it twice in the event that it does happen.
 

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Ronni Gordon is a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written extensively about health issues and her personal journey. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and has written for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other publications.
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