Thursday, January 14, 2016

Update: Chemo Is Done!


Hello! I’m so sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted a "real" update. In October 2015 I went from having chemo once every two weeks to having it weekly, and it truly took over my life. Most days were spent trying to figure out how to manage my side effects while also attending to the important things in my life.

Dealing with the day to day illness was not as easy as I thought it would be. I stepped back my day job (career coaching for actors) to only 10 students a week, a drastic cut from the 20-25 I was used to. I had to take Tuesdays off due to being at the hospital all day, and I added another day off (Fridays) so that I could give myself a rest on the day that side effects reared their heads the strongest.

I was also producing two shows with The Seeing Place - directing one of the them and starring in the other - which were in pre-production and rehearsals on October and November and then ran for 3 weeks December 4-20. The shows went really well, by the way (see reviews here!) - they even received an “Honorable Mention” distinction in Manhattan With A Twist’s “Top 10 Productions of 2015” award - there are hundreds of indie companies in NYC, so to have our company singled out with 14 other amazing productions is a hugely impressive distinction.

Then the holidays came, where I finally got to see my mom for the first time since my diagnosis and I also got to see my dear friend, Laura, who has also been through breast cancer and accompanied me to one of my appointments. And on December 20 I was hit with the longest running chest cold of my life. I only just started to get better yesterday, 3 weeks after being run down by it. My life has been an exercise in patience and self-preservation.

The side effects of chemotherapy have been less intense than I imagined but somehow far more difficult to deal with than I ever imagined. If they had been more intense (losing weight, extreme nausea, etc) I would have been chained to my bed and forced to rest. Instead, the side effects “only” left me feeling like I had a flu for 5 months (pain in my bones, achiness in all of my muscles, listlessness, fatigue, shortness of breath when exerting myself, stomach cramps after every meal, congestion, loss of voice from coughing, numbness in all 10 of my toes, temporary weight gain from the steroids that made none of my clothes fit, extremely low white blood cell count, and generally feeling drugged up.) But I still “seemed fine” to everyone around me so I convinced myself that I was healthier than I was and pushed myself really hard. The result? Anytime I had down time I crashed and slept. In November and December I did little to no socializing, pretty much staying in bed unless I had to teach or be at the theater. This exhaustion kept me from doing much of anything, much less blogging or writing. And I started to feel like my life would never get back on track. I’ve never been very good at slowing down, so the last few months have been really awful.

I thought that when I reduced my day job workload it would free me up to do some things for myself - take time to explore the city, brainstorm about where I want my life to go, do little personal creative projects (like reading, coloring, writing poetry, etc.) Instead I found myself sleeping or just reading social media in a daze because I couldn’t get my mind to really focus on anything when my body felt so depleted. So now that I’m done with chemo I look back and wonder where the time went? I had such good intentions for my time “under the drip.”

I also had a development with my hair that I didn’t expect, which threw me into a deep depression for a couple of weeks. While the cold caps were effective in keeping hair on my head, what I didn’t expect was that in early November absolutely all of the blonde hair I had BROKE OFF at the place where my roots had grown in. Meaning - right now instead of long blonde hair with about 2-3 inches of my natural brown roots, I only have 2-3 inches of my natural brown roots. No more length, no more blonde. I had no idea this was possible. I followed the hair care instructions to the finest point and read pages upon pages of message boards - I never heard about people’s hair breaking off. The only thing I can figure is that my hair became too brittle and weak due to the chemo, and broke at the last place it had been bleached. I look a little like Anne Hathaway in Les Mis when she chops her hair, except that because of the chemo I had already shed 50% of my hair and so it looks less full and much more choppy. Definitely not sexy or attractive.

This is Anne, not me. Though we do share a birthday, so maybe we are the same person. 
(And, with respect, please don’t comment to say, “You’ll look good with short hair!” Understand that this has been devastating for me, especially after the intense pain and countless hours of using the cold caps - the only appropriate response to cancer patients who lament their hair loss is, “I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this.”)

So I enter 2016 not really knowing who I am or what’s ahead. My identity was so wrapped up in the package I presented to the world - now I look in the mirror and there’s someone there that I don’t recognize. I have 4 scars across my chest, my hair makes me look like a refugee, and I’m still deep in the side effects of chemo even though my last drip was a week ago. (Chemo lingers in the body for a while, and the 12 straight weeks of my last cocktail show cumulative effects that are hardest at the end.)

What's also been very hard is reading about all of the deaths this week from cancer. I was hardest hit by those closest to home. An actor colleague of mine, Rick Delaney, passed away from cancer. And Holley Kitchen, who changed the world with her devastating video about her metastatic breast cancer, just passed away. The video was posted about a month after my diagnosis, a time I learned that even if I do all of the right things I still have a 34% chance of having the cancer come back as Stage 4. Her death is so personally upsetting that I could barely speak today. 

I spent 95% of my time "fighting" and "staying positive" and "being inspiring" - so please forgive me when the 5% overtakes me. It's a dark fight, and scary fight, and sometimes I just need to be allowed to express my fears and live them for a moment so that I don't bottle things up (which is far worse - fake positivity does nothing good for the body.) This is why I might hibernate sometimes so that I can come back out to the world a more stable, fearless, "warrior" that you know me to be.

I had a consultation with my radiation oncologist today where we put together a plan for radiation - 5.5 weeks (28 treatments) of radiation across my left chest, underarm and collarbone (to get the full breast plus all of my lymph nodes) and then 5 more targeted treatments just into the area where the cancer was found. I’ll post more when I know more. In the meantime, most of my medical updates can be found at my blog at PostHope.

As always, thank you for your support. If you're looking for ways to help, you can check out this blog post with my wish list, which is making all the difference in the world.

Erin :)


Erin Cronican's 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 http://www.erincronican.com.

4 comments:

  1. I always appreciate your writing and how open and honest you are about what you're going through.

    Physical changes are really hard. With things like hair issues, weight gain,even though we know it's not the most important part of who we are, it doesn't mean it's not difficult to deal with when it happens. So, again, always appreciate how open you are in your writing about what you're thinking and feeling. (Not just about those things, but about all of it) I'm sorry to hear about Rick and Holley, too.

    So glad you are done with the chemo and hoping you'll have a great February. Looking forward to hearing about it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Erin,
    Your writing is a great inspiration to me.
    Maria Heneghan

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are an inspiration, Erin. Thanks for sharing. I'm sending you good thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You are an inspiration, Erin. Thanks for sharing. I'm sending you good thoughts.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting- YOU ROCK!


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