Erica’s Cancer Journey: What happened when I changed the question

Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno with her husband, Mike, and their kids, Quinn and Declan.

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The brain tumors are smaller,” the doctor reported at my radiation follow-up. “Great!” I said, almost reflexively. It’s not much to process: Smaller is good, larger is bad. Got it. No further questions. “Thanks, ’bye!” I didn’t think anything more about it.


At a later appointment with another doctor, I learned that, yes, the tumors showed a decrease in size, but not by much. “Wait, what? But…but…but…” It had never occurred to me to ask how much shrinkage had actually happened.

At the next follow-up to my follow-up (if this cancer weren’t in the process of killing me, I would probably die of neverending follow-up appointments), I was as relentless as the telemarketers who hound my Do Not Call-listed number. What Would Neil deGrasse Tyson Do? “So, how much smaller are we talking?” I persisted, demanding more than a “smaller/bigger” comparison. And then, out of utter exasperation, this doctor changed everything with one question: “Why don’t I just show you?”

My mind exploded. All of my imaging was at hand on the computer. I just never thought to ask to see it before: It was never offered before, and it never came up. He showed me my imaging from spring and fall, comparing the sizes of each brain tumor with a cool digital ruler. Watching my scans with my own eyes, interpreted and explained by my doctor alongside, helped me take control of processing this information about me, my body, without relying exclusively on his words. At these follow-ups, I don’t want story – I want science! Seeing the screen myself, I was able to integrate his reporting with actual numbers along with visuals.

Thanks for reading. Head On and Heart Strong!



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