Friday, July 3, 2015

I'm A Risk Factor

When I got my diagnosis - Triple Negative Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (which is a fancy way of saying Breast Cancer) I was stunned. All of my life I’ve been asked questions by doctors about my general health, and the common consensus was, “Well, you have no risk factors for XXX (cancer, stroke, heart attack, etc) - you don’t smoke, you keep your weight down, you eat healthfully, you have a meaningful outlook on life” etc etc. So when I went in with this pain in my breast, they ran me through the entire battery of questions about chest pain, because the possibility of breast cancer was so rare (like, less than 5% of cases are for women under the age of 40.) Could I have receive trauma in my chest? Is my asthma flaring up? Did I have a cold recently? And so on and so on.

When I answered ‘no’ to all of the above, they started asking me about my family history of cancers. Yes, my maternal aunt has breast cancer, but she was 65 when diagnosed and not considered a risk factor. Yes, my uncle has had renal cancer, but again it was over the age of 50 so not considered a risk factor. Yes, my grandmother had endometrial cancer but she was over the age of 70 and was not considered a risk factor. And even my own history of cancer (did you know that I had skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma?) wasn’t considered a risk factor. I was risk-free and still got cancer. Twice.

My own surprise at my diagnosis was big and it was palpable. But I wasn’t prepared for what the doctor would say to me next:

“Make sure you talk to all of the women in your family, because they are now at a greater risk for getting cancer.”


Even as I type this a chill is sent through my spine and I am filled with a sense of panic and dread. From now on the people I love will have to be extra careful because of what is going on with me. On the one hand, maybe this is a little nudge that will make a real difference in their health. But on the other hand I’m riddled with guilt. I know logically that I did not do anything wrong to make cancer happen. But I feel like I couldn’t forgive myself if someone got cancer but didn’t catch it soon enough to do something about it.

So, I did it. Before I was ready to tell the world what I was going through - before I had even processed it myself - I composed an email and sent it to all of the females in my family - aunts, cousins, nieces, sisters and my mom. I also shared with my brother and uncle since it may increase their chance for prostate or male breast cancer.

And I also consented to have full genetic testing done, because I feel like it’s my responsibility to provide my family with full information about our genetics. I should have the results back mid to late July. I think this will give me a lot of peace of mind, even if it shows up positive. I know I have great medical care, and if I’m genetically predisposed to cancer a) I can stop beating myself up for getting cancer, and b) I know that there are things I can do to offset the risks.

But I’m still afraid. Nix that, I’m terrified of what they’ll report. So, until I know I’ll be accepting your comments, love and support to help stave off the mid-grade panic that has been evolving...

Erin :)


To read about my breast cancer story, click here. Some people have asked me how they can help. For you, I have created a post on my medical blog which will keep you updated on what kind of help I could use. You can find it by clicking here.

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

1 comment:

  1. Hang in there, Erin, and I'm hoping that your genetic test results come back negative.


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