Erica’s Cancer Journey: Discovering Disney

Q: Why can’t you give Elsa a balloon?
A: Because she will Let It Go.

That was my contribution to the call for audience jokes while standing in line for the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and they used it in the show!

After living an amazing life over these past 48 years, I don’t really have much of a bucket list, but taking my family to Disney World is one thing that has been a dream of mine. Between the intensive organizing, the tremendous expense and the risk of a sudden health issue sabotaging the whole plan at the last minute, betrayed like Mufasa by Scar, Disney just wasn’t in the wishing stars for us. A small price to pay for a life well-lived, I thought, trying to console myself. Hakuna Matata. And then my social worker, Sue, mentioned Inheritance of Hope to us. Months later, we were in Orlando sipping Dole Whips and wearing Mickey ears.


Our family has just returned from the epic Disney trip that was my heart’s desire, thanks to the generosity of the tremendous charity Inheritance of Hope. IoH serves to honor young families facing the loss of a parent, which they accomplish by offering three-to-four-day retreats to Orlando, New York City and (new this year) Southern California. Our experience included morning support circles for adults and age-based groups for the children, followed by afternoon adventures at a different park each day: Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios and SeaWorld. Each family was assigned its own volunteer for the duration of the trip: friends who became family, who carried our bags, pushed wheelchairs, took pictures, rode rides, guided us around the unfamiliar territory and facilitated all of our FastPasses and tickets. FastPasses meant bypassing lengthy lines, and we saw much more of each park than we could have otherwise.

IoH makes all of the arrangements and covers all of the costs, including flights, hotel, meals and park admissions. This is an incredible organization. I encourage you to spread the word and consider giving them your support:

Here are some highlights from our trip!


  • Space Mountain: My son and I loved it, all three times. Did you know that real astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper and Jim Irwin attended this coaster’s grand opening in 1977?
  • Fireworks lived up to the hype: They were spectacular, including dramatic imagery projected on Cinderella’s Castle.
  • Dole Whip: It’s a pineapple paradise for your palate that you can only get at Disney. Trust me, just get one.
  • Free buttons: “Now,” “Disney and “free” – that’s something you don’t usually see in the same sentence, unless there’s an extra word in there like “not.” Head to the gift shop on Main Street and ask the cast member (Disneyese for staff) at the register for a free Disney button. Choices include Birthday, First Visit, Happily Ever After and I’m Celebrating…


  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster: Stretching up to 167 feet high, with top speeds of 65 miles per hour, you can actually choose your own ride music by holding down the logo for ten seconds, then entering the song’s three-digit code! My choice would be #306. Here’s the complete list:
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: I was captivated by the fire-breathing dragon outside of Gringotts Wizarding Bank as we entered to ride the coaster, complete with 3-D imaging enhancing the ride.
  • Butterbeer: While you’re in Diagon Alley, enjoy a refreshing glass of this sweet, butterscotchlike soda, just to say you did.


  • Manta Flying roller coaster: Now that’s what I’m talking about! Legs dangled freely as the awesome crazy loop, twists and turns evoke the manta ray’s ocean motions.
  • Feeding manta rays: Ew. Sure, you can catch an orca or dolphin show, and even land-based cat and dog entertainment in the Pets Ahoy performances. But there’s nothing like hands-on marine memories. If you delight in slimy, mushy mouths snarfing smelly shrimp from your submerged fingers, then have at it. Everything about it was weird, which made me kind of love it.
  • Straw-free: I suppose if you’re going to snatch baby sea mammals away from their ocean families and keep them in tiny tanks, there’s redemption to be found in improving the environment in other ways. SeaWorld is proudly straw-free to help save ocean wildlife. This cracks me up.


  • “Kitchen”: Whenever I’m in the general vicinity of a Waffle House, I beeline inside. I adore everything about it, and the jukebox just enhances the experience. I took a break from my Smothered and Covered to move and groove with the staff to Mary J. Blige’s classic, “Kitchen.” Been listening to it on repeat ever since. My kids played “What’s New, Pussycat?” in honor of John Mulaney’s story, but only once because I “ran out of quarters.” Chumps.


  • Stacks of quarters and pennies for the innumerable embossed penny machines at each park: best souvenir bargain ever!
  • Pins to trade at Disney with other patrons, characters and cast members.
  • Autograph books (and pens) for characters to sign.
  • Rain ponchos – because Florida.
  • Disney shirts or hats purchased up here, because they cost a fortune down there.
  • Fanny packs or backpacks to carry this stuff.
  • Strollers and wheelchairs. Fun Fact: Disney World is 40 square miles, the size of San Francisco! Even if you don’t regularly use them in daily life, you’ll probably appreciate having them in the parks. Rent your wheels once you get to your lodging. Note: My husband informed me that the Fitbit doesn’t count steps for pushing them, because you’re not moving your arms!
  • Extra meds. I’m never asked to pull my meds at the airport, which surprises me.
  • Empty water bottles you can refill in the parks.

Are you interested in a cancer-charity sponsored vacation or other dream experience for a caregiver with cancer who has kids under 18? Or to offer financial support in honor of a loved one or special occasion? Here are some resources to consider. Many others exist for elders, children and other chronic or terminal illnesses.

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