Erica’s Cancer Journey: “Framily”

Michi and Erica, teens in ’80s East Germany

Promise me / you will not spend / so much time / treading water /
and trying to keep your head above the waves / that you forget, / truly forget,
how much you have  / always loved / to swim.
– Tyler Knott Gregson

Nina’s here! Her mom and I have been burning up the WhatsApp with schedule adjustments, questions and updates for months, and now she’s here!

(Who’s Nina?)

Why, she’s Sara’s sister, of course.

(Who’s Sara?)

She’s Michi’s daughter.

(Who’s Michi?)

My German sister! 

“I’ve been to almost as many places as my luggage.” – Bob Hope


When I was a teen, my family was active in Operation Friendship: a summer exchange program that sends groups of teens abroad to member host families or hosts groups of member teens from another country. I will always be grateful to my parents for fostering my love of international travel and value of other cultures by hosting exchange students at our home, and for sending me abroad through this program during high school. My OF trip to Germany is how I met Michi (pronounced “mee-hee,” with that phlegm sound in the middle) and her parents.

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.
Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller

We clicked instantly. We laughed so much, like the time I sat down to rest against a vacant wall during a beer festival, happily digesting my bratwurst, the now-empty white paper plate by my side. A few people walked by me, said something that sounded kind even in German, bent down and threw some coins on my plate. I was puzzled. When Michi returned from getting us some soda (wink), I shared my confusion about what happened. She burst out laughing, gasping out, “They think you’re a bum!”

“My fear of flying starts as soon as I buckle myself in and then the guy up front mumbles a few unintelligible words then before I know it I’m thrust into the back
of my seat by acceleration that seems way too fast and the rest of the trip is
an endless nightmare of turbulence, of near-misses.
And then the cabbie drops me off at the airport.”
– Dennis Miller

I give Michi all the credit for our remaining in touch over these decades, because I was (am) an infrequent letter-writer; but, as she and my French sister Nat still tease, “She doesn’t write much, but when she does, she really does.” Remember, this is all pre-e-mail, let alone Twitter, Insta, Facebook, Skype, Discord or even MySpace. I’m talking the Steve Winwood “Higher Love,” Top Gun and Street Fighter era. The Berlin Wall was still standing. 

“What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?” – George Carlin

We both grew up, raised kids, and daughter Sara was on the brink of 16 when she arrived in the Hudson Valley for boarding school. Being relatively close by, we could spring Sara from campus and expose her to my personal American “musts,” such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, buffet restaurants, fried Oreos and the Statue of Liberty – each experience ending in a race to beat curfew, armed with a java “cup of hope” in hand to tackle her history or math homework.

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced
the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.’” – Douglas Adams

My kids were very young then, and Sara was the adored, perfect big sister when she stayed at our house. She introduced them to the poop emoji, funny videos and new games. I enjoyed having a cool companion to share deep or silly conversations with, the extra hand in the kitchen, as well as an inside glimpse of parenting a teen (“Wait, we’re skiing today – you forgot your snowpants??”). We were all devastated when she flew back to Deutschland.

“When life knocks you down, roll over and look at the stars.”

Years later, Sara surprised me with a visit after my cancer diagnosis, I don’t know how she, Michi and Mike pulled it off! Sara was a huge help with the house, the kids and her overall loving support. She’s on my mind and in my heart all the time.

“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.”– Al Gore

So imagine my excitement when I recently heard the news that her younger sister, Nina, was coming this fall! Same school, same plan for us to be a home-away-from-home during her time here, and same exposure to the best of what our area has to offer. I am being creative with transportation to get her to and from New Paltz (if you are interested in brushing up on your German, hit me up – I’ll add you to the ride-share list). My kids are older now, so the relationship with her is more peerlike. I am hopeful that my health remains stable enough to be here during her entire school year. And I dream of my own kids visiting Nina, Sara and Michi back in Germany someday.

“People don’t take trips…trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Thanks to my and Michi’s parents back in the days of RUN-DMC “It’s Tricky” and The Breakfast Club, Michi and I were gifted with the opportunity to meet at the age Sara was, and Nina is now. We’ve remained close, now two generations connected, and hopefully many more. And I am grateful to see it unfold for as long as I can. Where have your life trips taken you?

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