Erica’s Cancer Journey: One More MRI and I’ll Stick to the Fridge!


Erica Chase-Salerno, back when she had long hair in the early aughts. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Have you ever had an MRI? Perfect. Now let’s put the “I” in MRI. MRI stands for Milkshake Right In [points at side of mouth].

 Okay, fine. It really means Magnetic Resonance Imaging (but I like my first idea better).


 The purpose of my MRIs is to see what the brain tumors are up to. I wear my regular clothes, no metal; lie down on my back, get a plastic cage around my head, and I glide into a big white tunnel, like I’m the filling for a giant cannoli. WHIRRRRRRRRRRs, HONNNNNKs, KNOCKs and BANGs sound like SUNY-New Paltz students celebrating after Finals Week. Magical magnets peer into my insides – in my case, my brainnnnnnnnnnns. I usually spend about an hour in this noise machine.

People say that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. In my cancer world, these MRIs are one way doctors actually “count” my insides. With so many MRIs since diagnosis, I’m surprised I don’t stick to the fridge!

Now let’s put the “I” in life. Physicist Carlo Rovelli says, “We don’t understand the world as made by stones – by things. We understand the world made by kisses, or things like kisses: happenings.”

I am more than the sterile, impersonal objective counts of my malignant insides. “I am large, I contain multitudes.” I am greater than the sum of my biopsied, blood-drawn, radiated and chemoed parts. I am more than what that white portal’s CLANGS and CLICKS could ever measure, my counts are in I AM units…of life:

I am grief over Brooke’s and Maureen’s passings this week, and Charlotte’s memorial service this morning. I am laughter over videos of cats knocking stuff off the counter. I am scars. I am new hair. I am wife, mother, godmother, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, neighbor. I am Wanda Sykes, Tig Notaro and Wade Wilson. I am mint-chip milkshakes.

My innumerable MRIs are just one spoke of the fierce wheel that cancer relentlessly demands of me…of many of us. We are more than our tests and scans. We are more than our counts.

Poet David Whyte encourages us to go even further with his piece, “Just beyond Yourself”: “There is a road always beckoning. When you see the two sides of it closing together at that far horizon and deep in the foundations of your own heart at exactly the same time, that’s how you know it’s where you have to go.” Whyte’s words nudge me to remain still in discomfort while I question my parenting choices. To hold steady and ride out the emotional waves that roll through our stressed-out family. To invest in my own creative projects with the same commitment that I devote to my have-to responsibilities. To endure the impossible wait before Deadpool 2 comes out.

What are you “more than”? What is beckoning in your life? What is stirring in your heart? What feels just beyond yourself? Feel free to e-mail me at

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

This column was adapted from a reading Erica gave last weekend at the new exhibition “Handwriting on the Wall: Encounters with Cancer through Memoir, Poetry and Art” at the Arts Society of Kingston. There will be additional readings on May 12, 18 and 26 by Al Konigsburg, Meredith Hughes, Diane Golden Peterson, Linda LeGendre, Josette Lee, Alexandra Geiger, Melissa Wood, Jan Demuth, Craig Mawhirt, George Graham, Annie LaBarge, Thomas Tuthill, Phyllis Silvers, Dean Lavin, Blaze Aardman, Juliet Harrison, Abigail Thomas and another voice familiar to Almanac Weekly readers, writer Ann Hutton.