What a Coincidence: The Day I Found Out I Had Cancer


Someone was watching over me the day I was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Suzanne Remington

Is there really such a thing as coincidence? Not one for absolutes, I am beginning to think this is the exception. My answer is no. As in, never. This has been increasingly obvious since my cancer diagnosis. The diagnosis itself came after a series of serendipitous actions. It was a Monday, and I had just completed my daily 5 to 7-mile morning run; it felt sluggish. I wondered if I was coming down with a chest cold. I called my doctor and told him if he could squeeze me in before work, then I would be seen, otherwise I was okay waiting it out. It turned out he could see me, so I made a pit stop on the way to work. Upon examining me, he saw nothing alarming. He did note that my insurance company had just denied coverage for an inhaler, necessitating a medication change. Thinking it was this change in inhalers causing the sluggish runs, he was ready to do battle with the insurance company to get me back on my former medication. For that, he needed a chest x-ray. The x-ray was taken, and I was off to work. That x-ray led to my diagnosis four days later. The fact that my doctor could see me that morning, and the fact that he decided to take a chest x-ray could be seen as more than mere coincidence. I believe it was much more.

The original plan of attack was radiation. After my scans and biopsies were evaluated by a tumor board, however, it was determined that I was not a candidate for radiation. The cancer was too widespread. “The horse is out of the barn” were the words the radiologist used. That was a Tuesday evening. By coincidence (?) I had an appointment with my oncologist the next day. He told me my biomarker tests came back positive for a specific gene (ALK) driving my cancer – and there was a fairly new drug that was showing success targeting this gene. Chemo plans were happily scrapped, and I began a much more effective gene-targeted therapy. Thank God I only had to live with that terrible news of a “run-away cancer” for one night. Incidentally, my cancer stabilized within two months.

As I navigated my new cancer world, I tried hard to cling to “the before”. I worked, I tried to continue running, I put on a brave face. I did not relish appointments with my oncologist, as he loved to show me scans. I was not ready to confront the enemy within. I knew there was a group of people fighting my exact cancer. I avoided getting too involved. It is called Alkpositive.org, after the gene driving our particular cancer. The president of Alkpositive noted that I had joined the ALK Facebook page and reached out to me. She invited me to monthly (virtual) coffee times. She would email me happy messages. Her energy was infectious. As she built trust, she began to impress upon me how important it was that I learn about our cancer – what research is being done, different trials, different treatments. I went from living on the peripheral to becoming quite knowledgeable about ALK positive non-small cell lung cancer. I now understand this knowledge to be an important weapon in fighting the disease, and I encourage others to find similar groups. I am not sure why this very busy angel thought it a good idea to reach out to me. But in doing so, she changed my life, and my fight.

It is not a leap for me to believe that coincidence is divine intervention. I have always relied on my faith, even before my diagnosis. I also realize everyone has their own belief systems. I just invite you – within your own belief systems —to consider your own moments of serendipity. How has coincidence played a part in your own cancer fight? How have the people that you met changed you? Personally, it gives me comfort to think someone somewhere is pulling some strings, allowing for these happy coincidences —and assuring that we are all in good hands as we fight our biggest fight.

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Image of Dr. Minesh Mehta at ASCO 2024.