Erica’s Cancer Journey: Brain bling


Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno with her husband, Mike. (Surprise Photography |

Looks like there’s a new magician in town, and it’s me! The same way Tanya Solomon impossibly teleports balls, or my son dramatically burns a wallet with real flames, I can apparently manifest a dop!

What is a dop, you ask? I made it up: You know that puffy, adhesive electrode disc that Muggles use to measure heart rate? Dot + puff = dop.


I discovered my new gift when I woke up this morning and found a dop stuck to my left torso. I delightedly told my husband about the magic that had arrived. He stared, unmoved. “Okay, so do it again.” “No!” I protested. “We can’t just summon magic; magic must come to us.” He simply walked away. “Magic!” I yelled after him.

My son expressed the same reaction as my husband. Okay, so perchance this dop is simply a vestige from my slate of tests that day.

This has been one of the hardest weeks of my cancer journey, and I never saw it coming. On Thursday, I had a routine weekly appointment with my oncologist: very straightforward, not much to report. On Friday, everything changed. I woke up with a slamming headache. Since I haven’t been playing football or pondering physics in an apple orchard, I knew it was the brain tumors acting up. As they grow, they push against the midline, causing pain and swelling. My doctors moved into an intense action plan to get treatment as quickly as possible, since they are growing so rapidly. Who knew my liver and brain were in such an intense competition to kill me?

This week’s daily appointments in preparation for stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) brain radiation have been challenging because of coordination among multiple medical offices, including actually finding the offices; constantly shifting dates and times; and ongoing pain from fasting, injections, IVs, flat metal scan tables and mental fatigue from trying to keep track of it all. My left arm looks like the Aurora Borealis. My scalp is so sensitive that crafting and getting my new, tight radiation mask on and off is its own exquisite hell.

I even screwed up one scan by banana. Turns out, NPO is Latin medicalese for “Do Not Eat” (Nil Per Os), which my husband has helpfully renamed for me “No Panera Orally.” I am obsessed with broccoli cheddar soup and turkey avocado sandwiches right now.

My husband estimates that my innate worth has grown 47 cents due to the three new tiny gold seeds in my head (probably as close as I’ll ever get to wearing a tinfoil hat). This metal trio is smaller than rice and glued onto my skull to help point the radiation beam to the correct spot in my brain. My husband was delighted that the doctor jokingly said he could bring his own drill along. These seeds, which I call “Brain Bling,” are fiducials; yet, apparently despite being gold, do not hold fiduciary value. But they stay in forever, so keep watching the market!

Turns out, the timing worked well for these tests, because copies of my imaging made for great, spooky Halloween decorations. I also have three tiny new dot tattoos around my hairline. They look like freckles. Me: “Now, can you please draw a…” “No, it’s just a dot.” Me: “How about a…” “No.”

Things change, right? It’s the very definition of life. Lots of treatments hurt. We all have lots of big feelings. We all experience life as tragedy and comedy. Buddhism says 10,000 joys, 10,000 sorrows. Daylight Savings ends Sunday morning.

This week, I found myself digging deeper into my emotional toolbox than ever before. I have also nicknamed myself “Panera-ca” (rhymes with Erica). So, to be blessed by a magic dop? Yes, please.

Getting ready for bed that night, guess what I found on my right torso?

Head On and Heart Strong!

This one’s for my pal, Allie Vreeland, who transitioned this week after her own Stage IV breast cancer journey, just turned 30 years old. So long, sweet Allie.

Erica Chase-Salerno can be reached at and at