Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Year of Grief and Gratitude


A year ago I was given the most devastating news of my life: Breast cancer, which I had beaten in 2015, had come back in my breast, lungs, bones and brain. The diagnosis was (is) Stage IV, or metastatic, breast cancer. Metastatic cancer has no cure, and the average life span post-diagnosis is 3 years.

3 YEARS. (Are you f’ing kidding me?)

As you can imagine, this past year has been exceedingly difficult.

It started with lung surgery, where they removed one of the tumors for testing. It was the first time I’d ever been admitted to the hospital (except one time when I was a baby, I recently learned) and it was quite an adventure!

As a result of the surgery, I ended up with a paralyzed vocal cord. As a result, I had to quit nearly all of my professional singing gigs (of which there were many) and I haven’t been able to sing for a full year. It’s only been in the last 6 weeks or so that my singing voice has started to come back.

In December/January I spent 2 months on a hormone treatment to combat the tumors, but unfortunately it did not work and the tumors grew very quickly, making me incredibly ill. At my lowest point I had to use oxygen to breathe while sleeping, and had to sleep sitting up on the couch (I could not lie flat because my lungs wouldn’t operate.) I had such trouble breathing that I could no longer use public transit (couldn’t walk to the bus and couldn’t do the stairs in the subway) and spent most of the time cooped up at home.

Compounding the breathing was my utter lack of appetite. I lost 35 pounds, lacked energy to move, and even the simplest of tasks (cooking, dressing myself, showering) seemed impossible.

And it’s been difficult to work any more than scattered part-time hours due to my energy levels and numerous doctors appointments.


BUT...

IT’S BEEN AN AMAZING YEAR AS WELL. HENCE, THIS GRATITUDE POST


In March I started ongoing chemotherapy, which has literally saved my life. My tumors have been reduced in size and number and I can breathe again. I have been gaining back weight and I can walk without too much difficulty (taking public transit again!) Every week that my body is strong enough to get chemo I do a little leap for joy because without it, I would not be alive. The tumors would have overtaken me for certain. (I'm at chemo right now, as a matter of fact!)

I can sing again! Thanks to the efforts of my ENT, Dr Michael Pitman, and my voice teacher, Eric Michael Gillett, I am on track to be singing professionally again in January. (That’s my goal, anyway!) I am so thrilled to be able to do my favorite thing in the world.

I have experienced incredible grace and love from people near and far, from friends & family to complete strangers. I have received beautiful care packages and generous donations, had delightful coffee/dinner dates, been invited to see plays and musicals, and had home-cooked meals delivered. It has meant so much to be to be celebrated and remembered. With the craziness that life brings everyone on a daily basis, I’m very humbled to have been in your thoughts.

Every day that I can wake up breathing fully, I’m grateful.
Every day that I can make someone smile, I’m grateful.
Every day that I can experience people’s full expression, whether through art, debate, or sharing, I’m grateful.
Every day that I get to express myself, I’m grateful.
Every day that I get to talk to my mom on the phone, see friends over drinks, cuddle with my boyfriend and dog, I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that I made it to one year post-diagnosis.
I'm grateful that I may have two years left.


LOOKING FORWARD


The hardest thing is that I don’t know how much time I have left. I know that none of us knows that, but I feel the clock ticking on my life in a way I never did before cancer. It’s pretty scary. It’s especially hard when I feel relatively healthy but know that it’s a tightrope I’m walking and things can change at any moment. I feel guilty when I get caught up in the mendacity of day-to-day living - expecting myself to CARPE DIEM every waking moment since I don’t know how many moments I have left. (I’ve come to terms with needing downtime, I just don’t like it!)

I have always had a severe fear of death, even before cancer. I have a wonderful therapist who allows me to explore my fears in a safe place, and I’m on medication for anxiety and depression. But I still have these fears and sometimes they are debilitating.

I’m trying to experience as much as I can while I feel well, but financial worries have made things incredibly stressful. I’m lucky to have great insurance, but not being able to work full time has made me dip heavily into my life savings and I don’t qualify for government disability at this time. Every time I pay rent or buy groceries I see my bank balance dip lower and lower and it freaks me out. So I find it difficult to enjoy things like going out for meals and seeing shows because I don’t know where my next paycheck is coming from.

So I’m going to make a request that is always so hard for me to make. My friend Laura set up a GoFundMe, which has made a huge difference for me as I’ve navigated this disease. If you find yourself able to help, it would mean a lot and put my mind & heart at ease: www.gofundme.com/erin-cronican.

OR...

If you’d like a tax deduction, you could donate to my non-profit theater company, The Seeing Place. I’m responsible for heading up fundraising (a thankless job!) and if you’d prefer your dollars go to the arts this would be of immense help to me. The Seeing Place has provided me with an artistic home for the last ten years and your support will go a long, long way. You can donate at www.TheSeeingPlace.org.

If you chose to split your donation and donate to both, that would be INCREDIBLE and you’d be my forever hero.


Thanks for being everything that you are in my life...

Photo by Shirin Tinati


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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Day at Chemo: A Diary


Since I navigate my weekly chemo treatments mostly alone, I thought I’d give you a little play-by-play of what the experience is like. This happened to be a relatively tame week, but there are still so many things that go into having a successful chemo day.

Without further ado, here we go!

12:30pm - What to wear, what to wear? I try to wear clothes to chemo that service three purposes: comfort, fun, and accessibility for the port. What is a port, you ask? A port is the catheter that is implanted in my chest, and that’s what they take blood from and deliver chemo through. Today I chose to wear a full sequin tank top and cozy sweater, and a pair of kitty cat socks that I received from a friend.


Sparkly shirt!

Cute socks! Look at those little ears! (lower right in pic)

12:45pm - One hour before treatment, I put lidocaine on my port so that when they insert the needle later it won’t hurt as much. Because, folks, that sucker is FAT. Photo to come.

12:50pm - I leave my apartment, preparing to stop for food along the way and get to my appointment on time at 1:45pm. Today I will attempt to walk to chemo, which I have not done since being diagnosed - I have always taken a car. But I have been feeling well enough and I decided to test my body and its endurance. Plus, I’m stubborn & frugal and don’t want to pay for a car anymore!

1pm - I walk past a Dunkin Donuts and realize that I want to bring some treats to the nurses at my chemo center. Munchkins would be the perfect gift. But they don’t have enough left at this Dunkin. Decisions decisions. I somehow convince them to make a batch just for me, but I would have to wait for 10 minutes for them to be done. I look at the time - if I choose to eat my meal here instead of elsewhere, I’ll have time to wait. I say yes. 25 minutes later I have them. (25 minutes?!) I rush out the door.

1:50 pm- Alas, I’m late to my chemo appointment because of those darned Munchkins! But they nurses are not mad, they’re excited to get some tasty bite-size donuts to munch on all afternoon.

2:02pm - I get called in for my labs. Labs are the blood draws that they pull so that my blood counts can be assessed and my doctor can determine if I’m healthy enough for chemo. My nurse, also named Erin, comes in and asks me if I mind getting my port accessed (needled!) in the more public lab instead of a private room, because they’re so busy that a room is not available. Ever the agreeable patient I put my modesty aside and say, “Sure!” She then asks me if I’m excited about chemo being done after today. I confusedly tell her that I’m not done, that as Stage IV I’ll never be done, and she says, “Why did you bring the treats, then? People thought it was a last day gift.” And I said, “No, it’s just because I love you all.” Tears all around. I get asked if I want to wear a mask or if I want to just turn my head away from my port (they take germs seriously!) I tell them I’ll just run my head and my nurse makes me promise I won’t breathe on myself. I tell her I’m nothing if not compliant. She asks the lab tech if she agrees, and the lab tech says, “She’s awesome. 100%.” Awww...

My nurse then asks me my name and date of birth. They do this MANY times throughout the day as a safety check to make sure I’m getting the right drugs and the lab are labeled with the right patient’s info. She cleans my port for one minute (!) and prepares to stick the FAT needle in it.

The FAT needle! Zoom in!

I feel no pain - the lidocaine from earlier is very helpful. For some reason, as she attempts to take my labs the blood doesn’t want to come out of the port quickly like normal. But a combination of breathing deeply and holding my breathe does the trick. We laugh and she says that I’m a pro at breathing. I tell her it’s because I’m a singer.

This is what I look like after accessing.
I also get my vital signs done. My blood pressure is high for me - 109/68. My heart rate is high as well - 101 beats per minute. I tell them that this is because I just walked to chemo from home, so I’m a little revved up. But I’m likely dehydrated, too.

2:16pm - I’m done getting my labs drawn and I’m sent back into the lobby of the chemo center to wait for the results. Most often I’m healthy enough to have chemo, although two weeks ago my counts were way too low (low platelets, low white blood cells, low hemoglobin) so they gave me a week off. Today I’ll be in the lobby for about an hour while they wait for my blood count report to come back, for them to find a room for me to be treated in, and for them to get my chemo medicine from the pharmacy. I get myself a cup of coffee (free coffee!) and then settle down to check out social media.

2:20pm - I can’t get WIFI to work on my computer. Drats. Now I have to use my phone and drain the battery. Booooooo...

2:38pm: I get a text from a friend who I try to convince that I’m a Rambo at chemo - crushing it. I think he believed me. :)

2:50pm - There’s a woman in the lobby eating chips very loudly - the crunch of the bag and of the chips in her mouth is enough to make a woman crazy. But then I’m remind myself that I’m Rambo and can take anything. She’s very lucky.

3:22pm - Success! Labs are positive so I get to have chemo today. I get called into Room 5 to start getting set up for treatment. They start my “pre-meds” by hooking me up to a big bag of saline (which I need because my heart rate is too high.) They give me two Decadron pills, which are steroids that will help me avoid nausea, vomiting, and other allergic reactions to the chemo that’s coming. They also give me a drug called Aloxi, which also helps combat nausea and vomiting. They dim the lights in my room and hand me a blanket, a pillow, and a TV remote. I kick up the feet of the recliner and prepare to watch dramatic daytime TV like the Real Housewives of Orange County and The First 48.

Here’s a photo from a recent chemo, showing my typical weekly view.

3:39pm - Now that the pre-meds have settled in they hang up a bag of Gemzar chemo which will drip along with the saline from 30 minutes. They confirm my name and date of birth. Gemzar’s major side effects are nausea/vomiting, low blood cell counts, trouble breathing, swelling in the hands and feet, or a rash. It can also cause red or pink urine, but I have never seen that. (Yikes!)

4:01pm - The nurses gather with another patient outside of my room in a bubble of excitement. It is the patient’s last day of chemo, and she is getting to ring the bell that signifies that she has finished an enormous battle. I’m very happy for her but a little sad for myself. Because I’m Stage IV I’ll never be done with treatment, so I will not be ringing any kind of bell under these circumstances. Well then - I’ll just have to find a reason to ring a bell in other circumstances... :)

4:17pm - They chemo pump beeps loudly, letting my nurse know that this first chemo is almost done. She adds a “flush” - which is more saline “flushing” through the line to make sure I get all of the chemo out of the tubing. 

Here's what the chemo bags and saline look like.

4:24pm - With the flush done, my second chemo arrives ready to be started. This one gets dripped over an hour. They confirm my name and date of birth...again. (You’d think I’d have to be REAL comfortable blabbing my age by now, but it never feels good.) This chemo is called Carboplatin. The main side effects for Carbo are nausea/vomiting, numbness/tingling in extremities, body pain, weakness, rash, and hair loss.

4:29pm - My chemo pump beeps again, this time to let them know that I’ve had plenty of saline solution and the machine thinks I should be done. My nurse asks me if I want extra hydration. I tell her yes, that I love peeing (ha!) She agrees to give me extra for the day. Saves me from having to drink another liter of water at home. Drinking water is very important after chemo, to make sure that I flush out all of the toxins. Grateful to have it here in my veins.

4:49pm - The music from the TV show “The First 48” is so dramatic that my nurse comes in and stares at the TV. Then a commercial for an online car buying company comes on, and we both agree that we would never buy a car online, especially without driving it first. That’s crazy talk.

5:24pm - The chemo pump beeps, letting them know that my second chemo is done and needs a flush. After that, I’m done for the day! But not quite, because they need to take my vital signs (to make sure I’m not dead?) This time I’m 95/58 (normal blood pressure for me), and 88 heart rate (which is normal for me after chemo). They’re happy, I’m happy, so we start the process of checking me out.

5:31pm - The main check out maneuver is to de-access the port (have them take the needle out.) They give me an injection of Heparin, which helps to keep blood clots from forming around the port when it doesn’t have a needle in it. Once that’s done they flush my port with more saline to make sure the chemo and heparin have gone all the way into my arteries. For their final feat of the day, they rip off the bandages that have been protecting the port (and I say rip because the adhesive and my skin just don’t mix. Ouch!) Once the bandages are off, they say, “One, two three” and then pull out the needle, which always hurts more than when they put it in. They press down hard on the port opening and put on a bandage, so that I don’t bleed profusely. (I am on blood thinners due to blood clots being prevalent with chemo - I’ve already had two blood clots in my arms which was NOT fun - I had severe swelling for a month AND they could have travel to my brain or heart!) Once they’re satisfied that I won’t bleed to death, they flip on the lights and send me on my way.

5:45pm - After all of the rigamorole I turn off the TV, take off my blanket, put my shoes back on, and get ready to enjoy my evening recuperating. But first... FOOD (and drink?)

A margarita after a successful day of chemo!

Erin Cronican is a Stage IV 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.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Being Thin...Because of Cancer



Some real talk about the impact of cancer on your brain as well as your body...

I just watched a documentary about eating disorders and I’m feeling very emotional right now. I don’t have an eating disorder, but I felt such a kinship with the girls in the movie that I’m still aching for them hours later. I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I’ve had a dangerous amount of weight loss due to my cancer - about 40 pounds lost in a 4 month period. It’s due to a complete loss of appetite which has been happening since February 2019, even before my chemo started in late March. I look at food, and I just can’t eat it. I’m never hungry and feel full all the time. The thought of eating makes me completely upset - I’m mad at my body because I can’t eat and no amount of willpower makes it possible to start a meal, let alone finish one.

What’s been eye-opening about this whole experience is how the weight loss has affected me mentally/emotionally.

At first I was pretty excited about losing weight, because my weight has been anxiety-provoking for me my whole life. From the time I was a teenager I’ve hated how I looked. I’ve always had extra weight around my thighs/butt - no matter how athletic I was. My high school boyfriend told me I had a “butt crinkle” - his term for the fat beneath my butt. No matter how hard I’ve tried, no matter how much I worked out and ate healthfully, I’ve never been able to get rid of that “butt crinkle.” I’ve hated myself for having it. And I’ve never been able to get rid of the devastating memory of being told that. That self-hatred has impacted every romantic relationship I’ve ever had, every piece of clothing I’ve ever purchased, and created deep anxiety every time I’ve tried on costumes for a show I’ve done. I always felt like I was too large to be considered attractive. And being an actor, attractiveness is EVERYTHING.

I’m not sure why I’ve never had an eating disorder. The negative thoughts certainly were there. Part of it is probably a willpower thing - I simply love food and drink too much and that outweighs the negative self-image. I’m not strong enough to resist. (I know what that sounds like, but I can’t put it any other way.) Especially living in NYC... I have too much wonderful food and booze at my fingertips, and too many social occasions are centered around these things to ever have been able to cut back. So I resigned myself to being “fat,” even though in my heart of hearts I knew that it probably wasn’t true.

Fast forward to being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer... one day a few months ago, my boyfriend said, “You don’t look so good. You’re losing weight.” I asked him why that was a bad thing. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, “you haven’t lost weight in your whole body, just the bottom part. Your upper part still looks like it did.” I immediately began to obsess over the fact that my upper body was obviously disgusting. I started looking at my upper body every day - when would I lose weight there? When would I be able to buy smaller clothes and finally feel good about myself? I was mad that I would still look fat in pictures, even though my weight was decreasing.

I hadn’t been trying to lose weight and yet my weight was dropping. Which was weird, because weight loss had always been so difficult for me. I went on an extreme diet from Oct-Dec 2018 and only lost 10 pounds. I was torn - on the one hand I was excited to know that I was getting closer to my “goal weight” of 130, but I knew my health was on the line. How was this happening?

Looking back, I noticed that I wasn’t finishing my meals - my eyes were always bigger than my stomach. I yearned to finish but I just couldn’t eat any more. I chalked it up to being busy - I was producing two shows, directing one and starring in the other. But shortly thereafter, my body stopped wanting meals at all. No matter what favorite meal was put in front of me, I couldn’t eat - the thought of even taking a bite made me incredibly nauseous. It got to the point that I was taking in less than 500 calories a day. 500 calories, in fact, was a GOOD day. I noticed that drinking my calories was easier than eating, so I started drinking Ensure Plus in the mornings which would guarantee at least 350 calories (with protein and vitamins) and I would usually be able to eat part of a small meal at night. I celebrated every bite I was able to take and yearned to be able to do more. Unfortunately, many times I would be able to get food down and then I would become nauseous and throw it all up, negating all of the hard work I’d done just to finish the food.

I felt defeated all the time.

I was weak. My blood pressure was really low. I had no energy. And no matter what I did I was unable to eat. I was prescribed a drug that increases appetite but the side effects were so bad that I needed to stop. People keep tell me to smoke pot for the “munchies” but I hate the way pot makes me feel. Each week I was weighed before chemo, and my weight was dropping significantly.
• I started at 144 in January.
• I was 128 when I started chemo on March 21.
• 121 on April 23.
• 115 on May 28.
• 109 on June 18.
Due to the loss of muscle and rapid fat loss, my skin hangs off my bones. I have wrinkles on my arms and legs, and what fat I have left in my breasts and butt just hangs there. I look like a little, old lady. It seems really unfair - I finally am at a weight where I could *consider* getting into a bathing suit for the first time in 15 years, but my body looks really unhealthy.

Fast forward to watching the documentary today. Even though I don’t have the emotional compulsion to restrict my diet the way that typical anorexics do, cancer has made the result the same. I still have an anorexic body. I’m still visited by a nutritionist every time I have chemo because my weight is of such concern. My life is still consumed by thoughts about food - will I be able to eat today? How much? How often? I’m counting calories like a fiend and trying to add more every possible way I can without getting sick. It’s exhausting.

I’ve had a turn-around in the past few weeks. For the first time since February, I have been able to eat several small meals a day. I’ve been holding steady at 108 pounds for the past month, when the trajectory would suggest I would have lost another 10 pounds. I haven’t thrown up in about a week and a half (which was happening daily, so that’s a real win!) I’m probably up to about 750-900 calories a day over the last 2-3 weeks. It’s been HARD to accomplish. I’ve been extremely frustrated that I haven’t gained weight, but my mother reminded me of something that has made me feel better. First, I’ve been eating enough to fuel my body, so it hasn’t needed to eat itself to survive. Yay Erin! But she also reminded me that 1 pound equals 3500 calories - I would have to take in an extra 3500 calories to gain one pound. That seems impossible! So I’m celebrating the small wins as best I can and am trying to go easy on myself.

I’ll tell you one thing - I never thought I’d ever complain about being too thin! Yet here we are. Thank you, cancer, for that surprise!

I’ve looked back over what I’ve written and started having doubts about being so vulnerable. It’s been a long time since I’ve talked so openly about something so fraught for me. But I’m hoping that my openness will help me start addressing the inner demons around this topic. I have a great therapist with whom I’ve started to express these demons. Who knows, maybe sharing my story here will help people who are going through the same thing. I am getting a certain amount of catharsis just from writing, so I thank you for reading this far and being so supportive...

EDITED: Some people are asking about the GoFundMe page to help with my expenses. Here it is: https://www.gofundme.com/erin-cronican


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.


The Fine Print

All content in this here blog is released under a Creative Commons by-NC-ND license. That means you're free to share it, republish it, refer to it, include it in your wedding vows, whatever... PROVIDED you

a) credit me (with my name, my blog's name, and a link back to my site- displayed at the top of the blog)
b) you don't change anything
c) you don't use it to make money.

To view the license, click here. To learn more about Creative Commons, click here.

Popular Posts


Top Blogs Acting blogs & blog posts Arts Directory for New York, New York
Blog Directory & Search engine Blog Directory My BlogCatalog BlogRank
Follow the erin cronicals