A second chance

A second chance

    Thursday, January 18, 2024


Old books, postcards and torn sheet music. Frayed ribbons, faded fabric, old lace and broken jewelry. What’s trash for many people is treasure to Erika Wickham. These are the tools of her favorite hobby: Junk journaling. “Until proven otherwise, it can be put in a junk journal,” she laughs.

A junk journal’s meaning is determined by its creator and is as varied as the bits and bobs that adorn its pages. It’s building something beautiful with your hands. It’s figuring it out as you go. It’s never giving up.

It’s a lot like what Erika has been doing since March 8, 2022.

In the blink of eye

On March 8, 2022, Erika was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer, an aggressive growing form of cancer that required immediate treatment.

She had just purchased a new home.

She was finally out of the woods with her mother, who had just recovered from a long illness that had her bedbound.

She had two jobs, a handful of hobbies and friends and family that relied on her.

She was only 49 years old.

Finding light in the darkness

In the blink of an eye, Erika went from starting a new chapter in her life to facing a battle with breast cancer.

Her treatment included a total hysterectomy, a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She also underwent hydration infusions to combat the side effects of her intense treatment.

Erika works at Genesis so she felt confident that she was in good hands. “Our Cancer Center is a gem of our organization,” she said.

Shyamal Bastola, M.D., a Fellowship-trained and Board-certified Hematologist and Oncologist at the Genesis Cancer Care Center, led her care.

As Erika battled cancer, she also fought to do the things that were important to her. She packed up her laptop and worked during chemotherapy. She mowed her lawn as long as she could. She still visited her mother to check on her.

A friend introduced her to junk journaling and Erika fell in love with the process. The first journal she made was of all the cards she received during treatment. Then she made another. And another.

“It’s repurposing old things and making them into something new and beautiful,” she said. “It’s giving them a second chance at life, which is what I feel that I’ve been given.”

She started creating journals for other cancer patients, so they had something to read and write in while undergoing chemotherapy. She creates them by request and donates them to the Cancer Care Center.

“It’s very healing.”

Navigating the new normal

In May 2023, Erika Wickham was declared cancer-free. She says she has an entirely new perspective and outlook on life. She creates junk journals and crafts with friends every weekend and is starting a support group for cancer survivors. “I live and do more than I ever did before.”