Mom Navigates Cancer with Help from Men of 'Moana'

Mom Navigates Cancer with Help from Men of 'Moana'

See how Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda inspire one mom on her journey with cancer.


When I hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical soundtrack, I can’t help but sing and rap along, especially to Hercules Mulligan’s line, “When you knock me down, I get the f*** back up again!” Hamilton songs help give me the courage to overcome pain from chest tubes after surgery, patience during my many hours of chemotherapy, endurance to manage one more difficult blood draw, and guide me to find helpful language around death -- all part of my new normal after I received an out-of-the-blue stage-four breast-cancer diagnosis last year.

Another source of strength is watching Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in action. I especially like seeing him perform a Samoan dance for his grandmother, dress up as Pikachu for his baby daughter, or share his story about depression. A friend even gifted me with a Rock action figure, which accompanies me to chemotherapy. “Little Rock” reminds me that I can be strong AND sensitive like Dwayne, and most of all, that I’m still here.

I was delighted to discover that these two inspirations of mine are both involved in the new Disney movie Moana: Lin creating the music, and Dwayne voicing the character of Maui. And I obsessively watch Moana promo clips of them together (the "No Texting" one is my favorite).

Above: Erica with her husband, Mike Chase-Salerno, and their kids, Quinn,10, and Declan, 13.

My kids tease me every day about my dream of meeting these stars and getting a moment to tell them directly how much they matter to me during this hardest challenge of my life. But come on, how could that ever happen? Then, I received an invitation from Fandango to cover the L.A. Moana press junket. Whaaaaat?!

My editor at Ulster Publishing's Almanac Weekly, the community newspaper where I work, knew about my aspiration, and along with folks at Fandango and Disney, hatched a plan. Two weeks later, my husband, Mike, and I flew across the country for the weekend. My assignment was to interview the creators and stars of Moana with a group of journalists at a press conference, which I did. But in addition, Fandango producer and on-air host Diane Mizota was able to take me under her wing during the event, and after each of her on-camera interviews with Lin and Dwayne, she introduced me to them.

After talking with these two men, I felt different inside. Lighter, yet spiritually grounded. Tears flowed freely, infused with happiness. An alchemy of utter bliss mixed with deepest-level gratitude. Magical. Lin looked at ME, as the tweet says, “the way he looks at literally everyone,” and Dwayne is the embodiment of my cancer journey motto, "Head on and Heart Strong." Seriously, how does something perceived as totally impossible actually happen?

I fell in love with the movie Moana, too, from its music to its message of encouragement to follow our inner voice. Moana, Lin and Dwayne remind me to laugh. To keep moving forward. To keep harnessing joy. Head On and Heart Strong.


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