Erica’s Cancer Journey: “How Die Hard influenced my action plan”

Bruce Willis in Die Hard

EEEP! EEEP! EEEP! My family was in our motel room getting ready for lunch when the fire alarm sounded throughout the complex. We were in vacation mode, none of us smelled or noticed dangerous fumes or smoke and the other guests seemed just as complacent, so I was slow to react until I realized we really should actually leave the room. As we headed outside, summer temperatures and a rain-free day meant that none of us had shoes on. Suddenly I channeled John McLane, the lead character in Die Hard, who performed most of the movie with bare feet, including the brutal scene where he walks on broken glass. “Hey!” I shouted to my family. “Take your shoes!”

I couldn’t think of anything else to grab, aside from my purse and phone, as we hustled out, sliding our footwear on while we hopped/walked outside. I was concerned that we could be displaced for hours, and what about the broken glass that was surely out there…somewhere.

Our rescue unit had an interesting call last week at the local upholstery shop: Guy fell into an automatic slipcover machine. Don’t worry, though; the hospital said he’s fully recovered.


The fire alarm was turned off within a few minutes, and we returned to making sandwiches. But the entire experience raised some questions for me: What should I do in a true emergency, especially while traveling? Obviously, life is worth more than things. Things can be replaced; lives cannot. But this emergency “practice” run humbled me into understanding that I wasn’t prepared, I reacted too slowly, and I can do better.

Q: Why did the author go to the emergency room? 

A: His editor told him he needed an appendix removed.

Assuming there’s an opportunity to grab anything while rushing out, I would want my shoes, phone, wallet, meds and advance-care directives. But the reverse is much more likely: What if I were the emergency? Do I have readily available what first responders need to care for me? Pre-cancer, I did not keep a medical info sheet on my wall. Now, I keep medical and contact information by the door, my MOLST form with end-of-life directives on my fridge and my Power of Attorney and Living Will forms in a safe. I need to streamline and make sure this paperwork is quick and easy to find. I have to get a permanent DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) bracelet. [Side note: It took me four tries to spell “resuscitate.”]

Doctor’s office: All our records are electronic; now just fill out these 12 forms.

It’s been a while, but I should probably review our household meet-up plan in case we’re ever displaced. And before this fire-alarm incident, it never occurred to me to create one for other places we might sleep in, like a friend’s house or other lodging.

Terminal Illness: Getting sick at the airport.

I am going to find my “Al” and connect with some first responders to see what else is helpful for people to prepare better for the unexpected. And if any of you reading this happen to work in emergency services, I’d be interested in your helpful tips:

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