Erica’s Cancer Journey: Spring cleaning

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

You are your ‘i’ in spring. Also, everyday balloons
“Pay attention, don’t let life go by you. Fall in love with the back of your cereal box.”
– Jerry Seinfeld

Aging can be arduous. Terminal illness is tricky. Parenting feels…well, what’s the word for The-longer-I-do-it-the-less-I-know?

A chaplain tells me, “This hand holds pain, suffering, hard… (turns my other palm up) … This hand is not empty.”


There’s more to the story. So, in addition to the above: Getting older can also be extraordinary. Stage IV is fascinating, actually. And mothering feels magical.

How do I remain mindful of this reframing when I get overwhelmed? What works for me are cultivating curiosity and looking for the new: chocolate hummus, a Faith Hunter yoga session, a swim top that stylishly distracts from my weird torso topography and, this week, a new season of spring!

I think of my life in seasons, planning in three-month chunks. I’m currently harnessing spring’s fuel of renewal, as Steven Hall writes: “Every single cell in the human body replaces itself over a period of seven years. That means there’s not even the smallest part of you now that was part of you seven years ago.” How cool is that? We are changing despite ourselves! With a body overhaul every seven years, we are regular recipients of an organic rebirth. And with the arrival of spring, what a potent time to evolve or reinvent ourselves.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive,” according to Howard Thurman. What makes you come alive? You are your “i” in alive, in spring, in rebirth, in light. Who are you? Where are you in your life path? What change do you see yourself walking toward right now? Are you heading somewhere you actually want to go?

Cancer helps me focus on the here and now, because I am keenly aware that I only have a limited number of heartbeats remaining. I make conscious choices about how to spend my time each day, because I know how my life can be compromised in a hot minute. I’m not saying that it’s easy to make decisions about my life. As Lucille Ball expressed so clearly, “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” But what is the alternative? According to Jerry Seinfeld, “Once you start doing only what you’ve already proven you can do, you’re on the road to death.”

What’s one way I create momentum for renewal? Spring cleaning! For example, which of my life branches are ready for pruning? I have conceded that certain relationships in my life will remain as-is, despite my earlier-than-anticipated demise that I mistakenly assumed would spark change. “Often we give up our right to renewal to accommodate the anxiety of those around us,” according to Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening. (I love this book! Thank you, Karen!) I firmly claim my right to renewal and to evolve, even when loved ones won’t participate in a dialogue about our dynamic. I can only change myself.

Another question is: What does my body need for fertile ground to nurture change in my life? I have been increasingly putting my physical body first, prioritizing gym time, yoga at home, walking my labyrinth and sleep. Although I have to say that this shift is currently challenged by some extremely delicious Pride Enjoy gluten-free vegan rainbow cookies that my friend Roxanne introduced me to (I am utterly powerless before rainbow cookies). And don’t get me started on the SweeTart sour jellybeans whose labeling includes a misprint about containing more than one serving per bag.

Finally, I am opening up some metaphorical windows to release ideas, obstacles and energies that no longer serve me. What feels alive and up for questioning about myself? George Bernard Shaw states, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” Who is my “i” in this creation of self? Lately, I’ve been dipping my toe in [gasp] Introvert Nation! I acknowledge that I don’t have enough energy reserves to keep up my pre-diagnosis pace. I require more time for meditation and reflection, yoga, walking my labyrinth and journaling. I am energized by honoring new rich dimensions of quiet and solitude.

After setting these intentions, what inspires me to continue? I follow the joy. “Begin today. Declare out loud to the universe that you are willing to let go of struggle and eager to learn through joy,” encourages Sarah Ban Breathnach. I receive joy listening to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest Hamildrop songs, watching videos of my godchildren, trying a new lipstick, cracking up with my husband and kids over memes. A friend recalled this exchange from the Seinfeld sitcom:

Jerry: “Kramer, these balloons aren’t gonna stay filled till New Year’s!”

Kramer: “Well, those aren’t for New Year’s. Those are my everyday balloons.”

I wish for you everyday balloons, like a goldfinch at your birdfeeder or a surprise crocus on your way to the car or a pint of One Sweet Whirled ice cream in your freezer. “Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn,” writes Lewis Grizzard. I honor the pure wild light (my friend Jasmine’s phrase), swirling in and around our awakenings into limitless renewal. Welcome, spring!

Head On and Heart Strong!

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