Erica’s Cancer Journey: “Spooky scans”

(Photo by Lindsey Turner)

“Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
– Macbeth, William Shakespeare

What frightens you? A jump scare? The sight of blood? An oatmeal raisin cookie mistaken for chocolate chip? How about a brain scan?

My scan specters are better than anything I find at a costume shop. Mine show actual skulls, real brains and an authentic midline. My other scans and X-rays show what else lies beneath other parts of my body. How else could I see my own insides?


Since the pictures are of my own body, I don’t personally find them creepy. I mean, it’s not like looking at a French bulldog puppy; but the fact that this technology can be used for more than seasonal spine-tingling shivers is a gift. Each update allows my doctors to measure my cancer levels, as well as where they are located.

People have varying tolerances for terror. My biggest horror is getting blood draws from my veins. My veins are the definition of overpromise, underdeliver: They look promising to poke, but they never produce, and the pain is agonizing, with vividly colored bruises to match. So now my blood brew comes from my port. I love my port for precisely this reason: After the initial prick, it’s pain-free – take as much as you like!

My port is a fingerprint-sized raised bump just under the skin in my right clavicle. Like Dracula, my port can move blood out, or put a witch’s eye-of-newt in (chemo). I used to numb the area with a spray that is now known to compromise healthy skin tissue, then various topical meds that never worked for me; then I tried ice, but by the time everything got set up for the draw, it was more hassle than it was worth. So now I go commando and just suck it up.

I could add to my Halloween décor with other elements, too, having cycled through so many tubes, wires and IVs like Dr. Frankenstein’s creature. Fright shows do require a number of props, right?

To me, skeletons are a different gory category. How many of us separate out skeletons from having once been a person or animal? I feel detached from a skeletal image; it’s challenging for me to imagine the flesh and other body characteristics that would make that being recognizable. Even ghosts, like the one at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz, have a sense of humanness to them (unless they’re Casper).

Halloween is literally the one day folks seek scare. The fear? I propose it’s a safe way to encounter death. We get close, right? From moaning, coffins, death rattles, bones, morbidity and comas from devouring too many chocolate peanut butter cups (just me?), we give death an annual trial run.

I wish we could follow that path to real life, where we make sound choices about our end-of-life wishes. Until then, Happy Trick-or-Treating, ghouls and boos.

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