Sunday, November 4, 2018

When Cancer Comes Back

On October 29 at 1:42pm I received the second worst phone call of my life.

“I’m sorry. Your tests show breast cancer...again.”

The worst phone call was when I was diagnosed with cancer the first time, which was also over the phone.

Phones are not really my friend these days.

To give this news some context...What most people don’t understand is the debilitating fear that cancer will return. Every cancer survivor bends over backwards to avoid recurrence, and for breast cancer survivors the magic number is 5. If you can make it 5 years without a recurrence, your odds go back to as though you’ve never had cancer. But during the 5 year window, the survivor is pummeled with fear and anxiety. So much so for me that I’m in therapy three days a week and am on two different types of anti-depressants just to get through life.

My dreaded phone call came at 3.5 years. What was fear became reality.


There are mostly questions right now, and not many answers. Has the cancer spread throughout my body, or is it “just” contained within my breast? If “just” in my breast, will I have to have chemo or will surgery be enough? Will I need a double mastectomy or will a single one suffice? Will I get reconstruction or stay flat-chested? Will I be able to work, or will I lose my business (like I nearly did last time)? Will I have to take time off from acting? Am I going to die soon?

Am I going to die soon?

I find out some answers on Tuesday when I meet with my oncologist to go over my PET scan results. The PET scan looks at the body to find where cancer is lurking. It will tell us if what I have is a local recurrence (“just” the breast) or a distant recurrence (spread outside of the breast.) If it is “just” a local recurrence, I will have treatment (surgery/chemo, etc) and then start another 5 year journey of fearing its return. If it is a distant recurrence (also called metastatic breast cancer) it is considered terminal with no cure, and a 3-5 year prognosis.

I’m emphasizing “just” for a reason. If I’m not careful, I’ll underplay what is happening and look at “cancer ‘just’ in my breast” as something positive. I guess it is, if we think the alternative. But it’s not positive. It’s gut-wrenching. And I’m somehow deprived of grieving/raging/lamenting because I don’t yet know if it’s “just” local cancer or if it’s terminal. So I’m stuck in some kind of terrible limbo between two terrible diagnoses not knowing how to feel.

I only know how to feel afraid.

The PET scan will prove one way or another, and I’ll know on Tuesday. I’m sure I’ll report back shortly afterward so that you won’t be kept hanging like I have been.

Waiting sucks.

But I’m gonna try to live fully while I wait.
 

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.

7 comments:

  1. Love to you. Will hold positive thoughts.

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  2. Erin, I am struck by your generosity in your sharing your experience with us. You are loved. I will say every prayer and mantra that you are kept as healthy and comfortable as possible. Sending much light and love.

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  3. Cronican, you are a warrior! You have more courage than anyone I know. I give you my thoughts and prayers. Xxxxxx

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  4. Sending you healing hugs and lots of positive vibes- you are an amazing woman- remember that- H

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  5. I think you are probably the bravest person I know. Courage is not lack of fear. It is taking action in the face of fear. Your writing this is courageous and forthright and know that so many, many people live you and are rooting for you. XXXOOO

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  6. Breathe. Blink. Cry. Hug. Touch. Repeat. I've not had this experience, but life terrors all paralyze. Your generosity and bravery are surpassed only by your passion Erin! FUCK CANCER!

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Thanks for commenting- YOU ROCK!


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