Erica’s Cancer Journey:  What is your ‘Why?’

“What I am looking for
is not out there; it is in me.”
– Helen Keller

What is your “Why?” What drives you? Who, or what, keeps you going during the tough times? Chocolate? Red cowgal boots? Family? Sheer stubbornness?

In my cancer circles, I frequently hear women lament a challenging treatment or “scanxiety,” which is nervousness or anxiety before a test about cancer progression. And they often end with the thought, “I do it all for my kids.”

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I honor that perspective. Honestly, whatever it takes to get through, yes, do that! Everyone has a singular approach, with unique points of view. My “Why” comes from a different place: I do treatment for me.

Sure, I make my kids’ mac-and-cheese or do laundry even when I’m tired. I facilitate their rides to basketball and play rehearsals. But I do not endure cancer treatments for anyone or anything else, no matter how much I love them. I’m not capable of a favor that would be that large or last that long. Do I love my kids? Yes. Do I live for them? No. Do I hope to have as much time as possible with them? Yes. Do I choose my treatments for them? No.

Why not? Because this path is my life, not theirs. Our journeys intersect intimately. But each of us has received the gift of our own path, complete with its own choices. My children are free to pursue their true selves, just like I am. Eminem raps, “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?” Living my life on my terms, and exemplifying that approach for my kids is evolution in action: We are not the same people, and I have zero expectations that they follow anything resembling my path. My kids and I are not different verses to the same song; I’m not even sure we’re the same genre of music! We’re more like Calvinball from the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon: Score is Q to 12. So random.

Loving does not mean living for others. I can make choices dedicating parts of myself to their life experiences, but not to their lives. My autonomy around my cancer journey frees my family from conditional love: “I do this for you” holds a lot of vague-but-heavy implications. How can someone get out from under that? I realize this is conditioning that’s only intended to be loving. However, not only does that unwittingly anchor them to my cancer journey, but it ties me to them in a way that limits me, as well. Elie Wiesel insisted, “Whatever you do in life, remember: Think higher and feel deeper.” How can I do that if I am living for others?

Instead of shifting the burden of the hard parts of medical treatments to a “dedication” to my children, what if I simply claim my choices outright? I have agreed to do this scan, come what may. Then I’ll tell my kids all about it.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts: kidsalmanac@ulsterpublishing.com.

Head On and Heart Strong!

Love, Erica

Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.

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