Erica’s Cancer Journey: “Setbacks or spirals?”

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

“A Plan B life can be just as good or better than a Plan A life.”
– Shannon Alder

“Stars are the scars of the universe.”
– Ricky Maye

Perhaps when people mention the “big C,” they mean curveballs instead of cancer, because they’re kind of the same thing.


My heart fluid is building up again – not unexpected, considering my diagnosis, but the rate is a little faster than I expected. This latest test could have been the last one for months, or what it turned out to be, which is that I seriously rock at creating useless fluid that I can’t even sell, at least according to my medical advisors.

Since my lungs are sealed up tight like Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the typical response to redirect the fluid to the lung area won’t work on me, unless you can conjure up a very powerful magic spell. So there’s an upcoming appointment to explain the alternative plan, plus another appointment for more testing. It’s like a BOGO: Buy One (appointment), Get One (appointment)!

“i don’t pay attention to the
world ending.
it has ended for me
many times
and began again in the morning.”
– Nayyirah Waheed

I took my sweet time getting upstairs to the gym today. I plodded up the steps and halfheartedly fired up the elliptical machine, feeling sorry for myself about this fluid buildup, frustrated that all of this exercise doesn’t seem like it even matters. Why bother if I’m just going to lose all of my progress I made since my last procedure only a few months ago? I should have just slept in. I do feel the energy, strength and flexibility that my workouts give me; but today, my promise to get my son to the pool was what got me in there.

My favorite trainer, Gayle, came over to say “Hi,” and I started tearing up, explaining my frustration with building up my endurance, only to lose it again in a matter of days during recovery. I know being here is good for me – especially for preparing for this eventual procedure, whenever it happens – but it still feels fruitless. She said, “You need to be here. Actually, you have to be here! And you’re here!” Her encouragement helped me focus on the task at hand, and off we went to the chest machines.

“The world has long ceased to be the author of your anguish.”
– R. Scott Bakker

Gayle got me started on some new units I hadn’t tried before, and without other people on the circuit during my time there, she kept a close eye on me. And I worked. My body was in bliss, pushing away weakness on the chest press, kicking away frustration during mule kicks and happily endorphined on the stretch platform. She cut through my excuses and supported the job I was there to do, including a couple of unexpected extra reps! I feel seen and heard by her.

I started thinking about the difference between ups and downs, like a rollercoaster, and spirals, like a labyrinth: one continuous path to center. I was back in the game. I’m okay. 

“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.”
– Zig Ziglar

Bouncing. Yes. Years of parenting kids and dogs has provided extensive experience with random bouncing balls bounding through my house, from teething to fetching to soccer. I’m appreciating this playful image of bouncing, because isn’t that a typical day? Sometimes the bouncing feels too low to manage or too high to maintain, but both directions are out of my control. I can resist it, or I can “roll” with it. Today, I came to the choice (again) not to be distracted by the “bounce,” or the setbacks of lost muscle tone or innumerable hours at appointments, but instead focusing on my life spiral of What Is.

“I said a hip hop
Hippie to the hippie
The hip, hip a hop, and you don’t stop.”
– Wonder Mike

It’s not my time to stop. Not yet. I still have plenty of bounce in me. I’m in my spiral. Stay tuned for my upcoming piece, “The Clay Class Chronicles”: another example of my personal perseverance through “adversity.”

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