Erica’s Cancer Journey: Putting the ‘I’ in inspiration

 Two remarkable
moments this week: Putting the ‘I’
in inspiration
“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”
– Gladys Berthe Stern

“You could increase your weights, you know,” Gayle the trainer points out. I flash back to six months ago, when I returned to the gym, suitably recovered from radiation and steroids. (Fun fact: Steroids ultimately weaken muscles, not pump [clap] you up.) I felt fine, but I was shocked that I couldn’t budge the leg-lift machine. I felt deflated as I pulled out one pin after another, constantly reinserting it in a few weights down. Every machine needed adjustment: abs, arms, everything. Lowering the weight levels matched my spirit: I was hitting bottom. I could not imagine ever regaining the ground I’d lost. What was the point of working out, anyway? Why even bother? (“I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.” – Joan Rivers) I lost confidence in the strength of my body. “I guess this is it,” I grimaced. “No hope for improvement.”

Because I am restricted from driving due to my brain tumors and risk of seizures, I rely on rides to get anywhere and everywhere, and I hit the jackpot. A good friend and I have been going to the gym twice a week for months now, and my weights are going up! But I am still skittish of that feeling of getting into position and discovering I’m incapable of moving it, so I am reticent to add extra pounds until I am absolutely sure I can do it. (“Everyone has a washboard stomach. Mine just has a load of laundry on top.”)


When Gayle observed that I could increase most of my levels, I was nervous. What if I hit the wall like I did six months ago? Gayle was right: I could do it. Seeing my numbers getting higher gives me confidence. I also ask Gayle to help demystify the machines that I don’t know how to operate, but I see the “cool kids” using. (“I really don’t think I need buns of steel. I’d be happier with buns of cinnamon.” – Ellen DeGeneres) Her groundedness, watchful eye, experience and egoless approach helps me to trust her advice. She inspires me to prove to myself that I can do it, which builds my body confidence by challenging me to achieve more than I would do on my own. Gayle says that no one will push me harder than someone else, and that is true for me. I benefit from someone helping me go beyond my mental limits. When I thank her and proudly point to my climbing weight chart, “This is because of you, Gayle!” she bounces it right back to me: “Nope, this is because of you!”

Later that same day… (“Remember, as far as anyone knows, we’re a nice normal family.” – Homer Simpson)

“I just wish I could have a healthy, loving detachment in this particular relationship,” I lament. My therapist replies, “You just proved you’re doing it! Your reflection before responding and facing the feeling underneath the sadness show your powers of observation. The detachment may be only ‘this big’ right now, but you’re doing it.” Me: “Wait a second. I am already doing it? This thing I keep chasing after – I’m already doing it!” This is just what it looks like right now: Messy. Unresolved. But happening! I was filled with joy. I’m not as far off as I thought I was.

Incidentally, I find these questions invaluable to my process:

1. What do I need right now?

2. What am I feeling right now?

3. What is the feeling behind that feeling?

When my therapist connects dots with me about patterns in my “blind spots,” she returns pieces of myself that I don’t realize I had walled off. I experience joy, fullness and pride when I see how far I have come in my inner work. (“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” – George Bernard Shaw) Her keen ear and mind foster connections where I cannot. She inspires me by reflecting back to me my own strengths and progress, which encourages me to continue making healthy choices. The “messy” parts that I had written off as countless failures are simply emotional reps, like doing leg lifts at the gym. (“Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel; stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself.” – Sara Henderson)

I am grateful for the inspirations in my life.

Who is inspiring you today? (“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi)

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