Erica’s Cancer Journey: “Sacred waters”

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

“Let the waters settle and you will see the moon
and the stars mirrored in your own being.”
– Rumi

“They say we’re 98 percent water. We’re that close to drowning.
I like to live on the edge.”
– Steven Wright

When simply brushing my teeth became taxing enough to catch my breath, I contacted my oncologist, who did urgent chest imaging, which sent me to the ED (forget Noah Wyle/John Carter; it’s called the Emergency Department nowadays), and ultimately landed me in the hospital. While the sensation felt the same as in years past, it turns out this shortness of breath wasn’t caused by fluid in my lungs; it was 1.04 liters of fluid in my heart, a/k/a heart effusion. (My friend pointed out the irony of my living the same personality as my diagnosis: effusive.) Solution: drain it.


Q: What runs but never gets tired?
A: Water

The procedure is pretty straightforward, although the name of it is not: pericardiocentesis. Loosely translated from Latin, it means “pierce the affected heart chamber with a needle connected to a tube that exits the sternum and drains the fluid for a few days into a clear purselet-sized plastic pouch clipped to one’s shirt that you don’t get to keep even if you ask nicely.” I had no pain before, during or after the 20-minute operation.

Who are the lucky winners to score this prize? Usually people who have cancer, but not all people with cancer get it. Kind of like all squares are parallelograms, but not all parallelograms…well, you get the idea. 1.04 liters is a respectable amount, if you ask me. But some folks have topped off at just over two liters(!), so no medical journals for me (I asked). Because of my cancer, my heart is expected to be bathed again at some point in sacred waters – I mean, “fill with pericardial fluid” – but not to this dramatic extreme, because I have around four zillion (Latin for “a freaking lot of”) follow-up echocardiograms. At least I get a free snazzy paper vest each time they ultrasound my heart.

“Water is the one substance from which the Earth can conceal nothing;
it sucks out its innermost secrets and brings them to our very lips.”

– Jean Giraudoux

The night before my pericardiocentesis (which is so much easier to copy and paste than it is to say), I felt led to invite an energy-healer friend to visit me in the hospital. I was thinking just an overall tune-up, a pre-procedure boost; nothing really specific. And, wow! Wowza!

I traveled. I was gifted with powerful visions: long, lush grasses lining the entire perimeter of the surgical suite. A view of an underground Greco-Roman bath chamber built of red marble, lined with smooth, majestic columns and an empty rectangular pool in the center of the room. Robed sages milled about. I was a little disappointed that the pool was empty, when suddenly crystal-clear waters swirled it into capacity. A few moments later, as suddenly as they had arrived, this powerful energy receded, and the pool was drained once again. When I sat up, I was positively jubilant from this rich, emerging awareness awakened within me about my procedure.

“You’re water. We’re the millstone. You’re wind. We’re dust blown up into shapes. You’re spirit. We’re the opening and closing of our hands. You’re the clarity. We’re the language that tries to say it. You’re joy. We’re all the different kinds of laughing.”
– Rumi

I immediately understood why my heart filled up in the first place: These sacred waters had a purpose! They had been part of a spiritual blessing in and around my heart, enabling an energetic elevation of vibration in my being. And now their mission was complete. These waters – or as the doctors keep calling it, pericardial fluid – no longer served me and were ready to be released. They collected in my body with pure intention. I was empowered by this shift from a cold, detached “throw the bums out” separation between them and me to a warm, respectful and loving, “Thank you for your service.”

“Before enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.”

I consider my cancer journey a spiritual one, and this transformation was a gift of grace. I’m asking myself, “What else can I reframe more wholly along this path, in my daily routine or tough times?” I pose the same question to you: “What’s asking to be reframed in your life in a healing, supportive way?”

Feel free to share your experiences or questions with 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

There are 2 comments

  1. Sue

    Erica! I quickly related your piece this week as being on the side of river keeper! Ref headline new 7 5 18 new paltz times.

  2. Michelle

    During my energy healing before I started Chemo I was visited by grandparents I never met. It was beautiful and gave me the strength to push through.

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