My Story: My Cancer Toolbox


I am a big believer in the proverbial toolbox.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Suzanne Remington

In years of working with special needs children, I filled my toolbox through education and experiences. When I was pregnant thirty-something years ago, I read all the books of the day, trying to prepare for the next 18 years in nine months. As a runner, I read the autobiographies of the famous runners, and how-to books on running, hoping to fill my wall with winner medals. 

Then I got a cancer diagnosis for which there is no preparation. Or so one would think.

It has been almost four years since that diagnosis, which came out of nowhere. Like most of us with non-small cell lung cancer, I never smoked. I was in my late fifties, and routinely started the day with a five to seven mile run —before heading off to my job as a behavior analyst. Following one of those morning runs in late 2019, I felt a bit sluggish. I went to my doctor on Monday. By Thursday, after an x-ray and a CT scan, I heard the words “you have cancer”. An oncologist was suddenly part of my new world, as were biopsies and biomarker testings. I put on a brave face when I heard the results: inoperable they said. Terminal, they said. I felt utterly unprepared.

I grew up in Maine, where I consistently complained because my home wasn’t in a neighborhood with a ton of other kids. But we did have a lake, a riverand nature paths —and the Atlantic coast was no more than fifteen minutes away. In these surroundings, I learned to appreciate the outside, and my own company — a Godsend during this fight. While my dad passed years ago from another kind of lung cancer, my mom and siblings still live there. I, however, moved to Connecticut when my daughter was headed to college and her parents were headed for divorce. Although absent Maine’s beauty, there is much more to do in Connecticutin terms of the arts – my other loves. By a happy coincidence, my daughter ended up in college in Connecticut and now lives twenty minutes down the shoreline. I met my current husband shortly after moving, along with his two sons. We even rescued a three-pound poodle who came to us serendipitously. Our blended family joyfully keeps growing. And as it turns out, Connecticut is a good place to fight cancer. Yale is much further advanced than Maine Medical Center. The biomarker testing, for example, literally saved my life. Further, there is amazing research being done just two hours away —at Massachusetts General to the north, and Memorial Sloan Kettering to the south. So here I sit, with my Maine roots and my Connecticut home, and my posse of loved ones. I did not intentionally prepare this; my toolbox was magically assembled.

Except that toolboxes do not magically appear. If I did not believe in a higher power before now, I would probably be inclined to start now. Except, I always had faith. It was a gift passed down from my mom. My faith has the safe landing throughout this cancer journey; most of the time, its ropes with all its strands that cradle me.Sometimes though, that same rope is used in a mental tug-a-war of faith versus fear. Sooner or later, faith always wins. Calm prevails.

During that first year with NSCLC, I did what I could to hang on to “The Before”. I was still able to work, as covid forced us all indoors early in my cancer journey. This was a blessing, as it is easier to work through fatigue, nausea and skin rashes when you are working from home. Again, a piece of the puzzle that fit the situation. Working longer allowed me the time to develop the resources needed to medically retire. Since retiring, I have found ways to help others; I believe this keeps a positive outlook. My exercise now consists of interval running; I believe in the power of moving through cancer. And, most importantly, I now know the value of learning all I can about my particular cancer. I not only know about my current treatment, but future treatments (for when this spreads), as well as medical trials. I belong to a group of people fighting the same type of cancer and have learned so much from this group. I would recommend this to any cancer fighter.

My toolbox continues to grow, ready for when my cancer grows. I might not win this fight, but it won’t be because I wasn’t prepared. As I march onward, my faith —that ever-present safety net— will serve to both launch me forward and cradle me home.

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Image of Dr. Minesh Mehta at ASCO 2024.