Erica’s Cancer Journey: Internal combustion

(photo by Sam Howzit)

Internal combustion
Let your soul shine,
It’s better than sunshine,
It’s better than moonshine,
Damn sure better than rain.
– Allman Brothers Band

I lay out some twigs, a clump of dryer lint and a drugstore receipt for eyedrops that’s inexplicably as long as my arm. The firepit fills with flames, rapidly consuming my offerings while fading away as quickly as they began. I reload with more sticks, torn paper bags, newspaper shreds and fallen wood. I am patient with my fire-tending. I need her to release the energies that no longer serve me, and she needs me to craft her into existence. As the heat finally builds up, the log begins to sparkle, like dozens of tiny amber eyes blinking under the bark.

Fire frees me from the intensity of eldercare, parenting and cancer as her golden arms stretch upward: an Olympic torch guiding me on a blazing journey of renewed possibility. She transforms my burdens to ash, lifts my spirit with her smoky trail of promise, nudges me toward my Inner Knowing. She celebrates joy! Life! She lifts away the limitations, sears calm into my consciousness, ultimately illuminating my own inner embers, my precious soulshine. The overwhelm and fears are gone. I’m back to my core essentials: Be Here Now. Breathe.


Teach me to live, I cry. Show me death, I plead. “We shake with joy, we shake with grief./What a time they have, these two/Housed as they are in the same body,” Mary Oliver says. Fire obliges.

Flames huddle the final vestiges of this disintegrating pile of ancient wood wisdom. Dying takes a while, Fire says. Our dance slows and relaxes. The quiet orange glow flashes intermittently during this cooldown, darkening into stillness, the completion of Fire’s transition from life to death. “I know this isn’t much./But I wanted to explain this life to you, even if/I had to become, over the years, someone else to do it,” describes Larry Levis in My Story in a Late Style of Fire.

I turn the knob to go back inside, dazzling soulshine emanating from my body.

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

There are 2 comments

  1. Sue Gilmore

    Dear Erica: I have been reading your publications for awhile now. This was great. I felt it.

    I lost my Mom and my brother within months of each other and then topped it off the next year with a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer. This scared me scared me straight. It’s been 12 years with a clean bill of health. Much better outlook….. still have my reactive personality, however, something is ‘in check’. Appreciation, fullness…I don’t know what…but it’s good.

    I still can feel the warm breeze in my Mom’s room. Comforting. It’s ok….I appreciate it so much more.

    I felt your prose, glowing…softening. Rich and rewarding. It’s ok.


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