Erica’s Cancer Journey: “What her death looked like to me”

You undoubtedly recognize my last name, but maybe not my first. Even though I was the one born in this town, Erica’s social star quickly eclipsed mine – not that it was much of a task for her supernova. Don’t worry, I won’t get mad if you call me Mister Erica.

You’ve read Erica’s perspective on the time leading up to her death, her increasing dependence on oxygen and her changes in appetite. But she couldn’t tell the final parts of her own story. After that last column, tasks that she once completed with ease became monumental.

Stairs became mountains, necessitating her move to a bed downstairs. 

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Footsteps became miles, eventually confining her to bed and all that entails.

Words became chapters: A simple question like “Do you want soup?” was answered, after a long pause, “…Yes…please.” Always with “…please” or “…thank…you.”

Breaths became meals, each one taking effort to consume. 

Thoughts became winds, blowing and dissipating unpredictably. 

Yet, through all this she was still Erica, still funny, still beautiful, still my wife.

She smiled when someone came into the room to be with her. She reveled at a private concert from Rhett Miller. She recorded an interview for Radio Kingston: some of the last full sentences she produced. She watched the Super Bowl with us, slipping in and out of sleep (though I hear that was a common problem this year).

She would delight when Quinn brought her a different stuffed animal to keep her company each night. She would intently listen to Declan tell her about his day instructing at Belleayre. She would gently lean into my hugs and respond “…Love…you…too.” 

But eventually the spaces between her shallow breaths lengthened, filling the room with a peaceful silence between each one. I sat with her in the dark hours of the early morning holding her hand and telling her of our love for her, until her last breath came and the final space arrived.

Later that morning, I prepared her body with some of her dearest people. We cleaned her and dressed her and made sure she was safe. As I write this, she is nestled in her glorious galaxy dress in the room she dubbed Celestina in the midst of her “soul transition” – still in our house, still in our life. Soon I will carry her back to the Earth, place her in her sweet and natural state in a sweet and natural place: everything she told me she wanted.

Erica’s death was a good death, but it was not an accident. I can only hope that the lessons she has given us all as she cheerfully and bravely marched her path will give us a little more light as we march ours.

Head On and Heart Strong!

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 https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.

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