Monday, March 11, 2019

Update on Diagnosis


Hello, friends. I had my appointment with my oncologist, and as I suspected the treatment I was on was not effective in stopping the cancer. In fact, the cancer has spread further in my body. I now have more tumors in my lungs, and they also discovered 4 small tumors in my brain and a tumor on my ribcage. I suspected this to be the case because if the treatment was working I should have noticed my symptoms getting better, but instead they were getting worse.

The brain tumors, though, were a surprise. I’m not having any symptoms from those. So it was just luck that they found them. Because I had fainted I had a brain MRI as a precaution, but I don’t have any symptoms one would expect from brain tumors - no headaches, cognitive changes, or anything. I’m lucky that the tumors were caught early and are very small.

This all changes my treatment plan. What I had been on was a daily dose of bicalutimide to block the androgen in my body. I’ve now stopped that, and my next course of treatment is to get radiation to the brain. Luckily I’m a candidate for stereotactic radio surgery, which is a very precise 1-time treatment that is able to deliver high doses of radiation to very small portions of the brain without having to radiate the whole head. This means my side effects should be minimal - they will be giving me steroids to make sure that there is little inflammation in the brain as a result of the trauma of radiation. They say I will be very tired for a few days, but that should be all.

The scariest thing for me about the radiation is not actually the radiation, it’s the plastic mold they make you lie in in order to make sure you’re perfectly still for the treatment. I’m asthmatic, which makes me claustrophobic when my breathing is obstructed. This mask partially covers my mouth and holds my jaw in place, so if I wanted to breathe through my mouth I won’t be able to. I was able to handle the molding/fitting they did a few days ago but I was only asked to be in the mask for 6-8 minutes. I’ve been told my radiation could take as long as an hour and I’m freaking out about it! Here’s a stock photo of what the mask looks like:

Stereotactic Radiosurgery mask
Once I’m done with the radiation (which is happening this Tuesday, March 12) the next step is to get me on some sort of chemo. My doctor thinks that I may qualify for a clinical trial, and I have an appointment with him on March 14 to discuss. The hope is that whatever treatment I get will shrink the tumors and help me alleviate some of the symptoms I’ve been experiencing. I’ll be on that treatment until it stops working (which is common, because cancer is smart and learns how to outlast the treatments we throw at it.) And then we’ll choose another chemo and start the ride again.

All in all, I guess I’ve been pretty lucky. I read about other patients’ experiences on message boards and there are dozens of other symptoms I could be experiencing. So though life is difficult, I’m still really grateful. I have enough breath to live, enough energy to snuggle my dog, and tons of friends around me to lift me up. And your financial support has made a huge impact, making it possible for me to take cars when I’m too weak to walk/take public transit and allowing me to have enough fresh food to keep me going. You’ve also helped me pay for co-pays, medications, and have brought me such joy in a dark time.

For those of you still interested in helping... here’s a post with all of the things that I need - I’m eternally grateful for anything you’re willing and able to do to help: https://www.erincronicals.com/2018/11/how-you-can-help.html 

Or, if you want your gift to go even further, consider donating to my theater company as we embark on our spring repertory. As you know, The Seeing Place has been my artistic home and donating here means I don't have to use any personal money to get these shows up and running. Plus, you can either choose a great perk, or get a full tax deduction by bypassing the perks and entering your own amount at the bottom. Donate here: www.TheSeeingPlace.org



Erin Cronican is a breast cancer survivor, whose career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit www.erincronican.com.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Symptoms From Cancer



I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, and people have been wondering how things are going. It seems curt to say, “I’ve been busy dealing with cancer” but that’s kind of the truth.

You wouldn’t believe how much effort goes into trying to stay well once you get a terminal diagnosis. There are so many symptoms from the cancer, side effects from the treatment, and then difficulties from trying to live - and they all exhaust me. I try to stay positive, because being positive is one way I have control over what’s going on. But I have to be honest. This whole thing is really, really hard.

Over the last few months there has been quite a lot that I’ve been dealing with physically:

Shortness of Breath
This, my friends, is no joke. My shortness of breath is extreme. I can’t walk AT ALL without getting winded, and doing anything strenuous (including climbing stairs or lifting packages) puts me into a huffing and puffing mess. And this kind of breathlessness is not like normal breathlessness, when you push yourself too hard. I literally cannot catch my breath because my breathing is too shallow to begin with - my chest is tight and I can only breath in a short amount before I have to breath out again. So doing anything strenuous causes extreme discomfort - and worse, it creates a panic response and can trigger a panic attack if I don’t actively calm myself. This difficulty happens EVERY TIME I climb stairs - in the subway, in my apartment, in other buildings. In order to make sure I don’t pass out, I have to walk VERY slowly up the stairs (much to the annoyance of other subway passengers - I usually wait for the rush to pass before I try to go up the stairs.) And by the time I’m at the top of the stairs, I’m breathing so heavily that people either stare or ask me if I’m ok. I have to breathlessly thank them and let them know I have a lung condition.

Loss of Appetite
Food is not very much fun these days. Because I can’t really eat it. I have 2-3 bites of something and immediately feel full. For the past month, I’ve lost weight and lost energy. (Although, I admit that losing weight is kind of fun, the lack of energy really sucks.) Which leads to...

Fainting
Yeah, so this is a thing. I happen to have low blood pressure and for the past two months I’ve noticed that I get very lightheaded when I stand up. Well, one night I stood up too quickly and got lightheaded, and I leaned over in the kitchen to try to steady myself. Next thing I knew I was on the floor with blood pouring out of my face, because I had fainted and my glasses had gouged my brow bone and eyelid. I was very, very lucky - no real damage other than two cuts and massive bruising and swelling. It could have been so much worse. But it was really scary. Not sure if it's the low blood pressure or the low energy or a combination of both, but all of this has led to me getting a brain MRI, which I'll get to results for next week.

Paralyzed Vocal Cord
After 3 months of speaking difficulties, I finally got a diagnosis - my right vocal cord is paralyzed. This likely happen as a result of the lung surgery I had in November. Strangely, the nerve that serves the larynx wraps down into the lungs and it can often be damaged during surgery. This was the case with me, and it took so long to diagnose because I assumed that I was simply recovering from the breathing tube that they used during surgery. But I wasn’t getting better, and no speech therapy or medicinal fixes worked to solve the problem. Once I got diagnosed, everything began to make sense and I could finally find a specialist that could help. Paralysis can be permanent or temporary - some cords/nerves heal themselves over time, and that’s the hope for mine. I had a procedure done last week to put a temporary “filler” in my vocal cord to strengthen it, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement already. The filler will solve things while my nerve (hopefully) heals itself. The doctor said the filler will last 3-4 months, and it can be done again if my nerve hasn’t regenerated by the time it wears off.

Coughing
Due to the tightness in my chest and the immense amount of mucus and fluid that comes from the cancer, I have a very labored cough. It’s especially bad in the morning (after lying down all night) and most mornings I cough so much that I throw up, sometimes multiple times. It’s very difficult for me to have what they call a “productive” cough, because of my paralyzed vocal cord. The vibration from the cords when coughing can loosen mucus, but since one of mine doesn’t move coughing doesn’t really work very well, so I end up drowning in my own mucus. (Gross, I know, but it’s a fact.)


All of the above has had its weight on me emotionally. Not being able to speak fully, not being able to breath, not being able to move fully for fear of fainting... this all makes it difficult to socialize or find the energy to do anything fun. Thank goodness for social media, where I can stay connected to people and live somewhat vicariously through them.

It’s also had a huge impact financially. Since my doctors' offices are often far away from public transit, I’m forced to use taxis and hired cars to get to doctor’s appointments because I can't breathe well enough to walk. I’m also using Seamless more often than I’d like to admit because it’s hard for me to get to the store to buy food and even when I have food it's hard to get the energy to cook. Working is very difficult with all of the physical ailments I have (and doctor’s appointments take up so much time - I had 6 last week alone.) So finances have taken a huge toll. So many of you have written and asked how you could help. I’ll refer to you a blog post I wrote about that - I’m eternally grateful for anything you’re willing and able to do to help: https://www.erincronicals.com/2018/11/how-you-can-help.html

I’ll have a further update on my health next week after I meet with my oncologist - I’ll be learning whether or not my treatment has been working or whether my cancer has spread. Please keep me in your thoughts...

Erin :)



Erin Cronican is a breast cancer patient whose career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit www.erincronican.com.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Feeling Betrayed By My Body

Thank you to everyone for their love and well wishes as I went through surgery in late November. It was quite an experience spending my first ever time in a hospital overnight (why don’t they let you sleep when you’re in the hospital?!) I’ve been healing very nicely from the surgery. I have three incisions - one in the arm pit, one in the side, and one in the back, through which the surgeon used instruments to remove one of the tumors from my lung. That tumor was sent for testing, the results of which I should receive sometime this week. Once the results are received, we’ll know what kind of treatments will be possible to try to stop the cancer.

For those who have asked, if you’re looking for ways to help or support me, you can find information here: https://www.erincronicals.com/2018/11/how-you-can-help.html

I do have one major side effect that has made things very difficult for me. As many of you know, I am a singer and this cancer has caused me to lose my singing voice. The cancer and subsequent surgery have caused a lot of mucus to get created, and it’s particularly nasty and thick. For some reason, it likes to hang out on my vocal cords and no amount of water, steroids, antibiotics, steaming, supplements, clearing of the throat, etc, make it budge. The result is me sounding like a frog (no joke) when I try to sing. It’s baffling doctors and it has caused me to have to forgo the one piece of personal expression that means the most to me.

What’s it been like to have lost my singing voice? A betrayal ... I feel betrayed by my body. I’m left feeling a sort of despair I have never felt before. Part of the despair is deep sadness for time I’m losing performing this holiday season (I’ve had to back out of 4 performances) while also losing an important thing that makes me feel happy. I feel like I’ve let down the producers in my life because I’ve had to back out of projects that for which they counted on me. Each time I see videos of friends singing I ache to be able to join them, and then feel despair that I can’t. Part of the despair is a crippling fear that my voice will never get better. (I have been having vocal problems since August due to the pneumonia that I am still dealing with.) I’m also filled with anger - it just doesn’t seem fair that I’ve had to go through this for so long... and then I become angry at myself for being so self-involved to despair so much. It leaves me feeling defeated, which is not common for me.

I have to mention how difficult it is for me to share so vulnerably. So many people see me as strong and capable, and I want to be that for people. I don’t want people to think I’m complaining or that I’m giving up. But if I only shared on the days when I feel invincible, you’ll never really know what it’s like to live with Stage IV cancer. And that feels even more disingenuous.

So that’s what it’s like to be me right now, for better or for worse. I have much happier moments when I’m not thinking about singing, but my heart aches when I remember that my voice isn’t working the way I want it to. When I got to my oncologist next week I’ll ask for a referral to a voice ENT and hopefully she/he will be able to address the issue. My goal is to have everything back in working order by December 16 (the next time I’m scheduled to sing.) In the meantime, it’s back to supplements, steaming, water and hopeful thinking.

-----

As a reminder, if you’re looking for ways to help or support me, you can find information here: https://www.erincronicals.com/2018/11/how-you-can-help.html


Erin Cronican is a breast cancer survivor, whose career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit www.erincronican.com.


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