Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflections On My Birthday

I normally don’t think much about my birthday. Well, that’s not true. I THINK about it, but I don’t really really do much about it. If it weren’t for Facebook, I don’t think anyone would know when my birthday was. I rarely if ever have parties, and the ones I do have are thrown together so last minute that very few friends can come. Somehow I have always viewed my birthday as a solitary thing - something to quietly ponder as the year marches feverishly toward the holidays.

This year is different, though. It’s different because for the first time my mortality is staring me in the face. Not because my years are advancing, but because chemotherapy is ravaging my body to kill cancer that’s been living unchecked in my breast for who knows how long.

We all have this survival instinct that says, “I’m going to live forever.” It helps us believe that we’ll fall on the right side of statistics and that miracles can occur. And that’s really comforting to live with.

But I don’t live with that feeling anymore. Those feelings have passed in innocence like my childhood. I meditate to reclaim that feeling, but instead my brain is forcing me to look rationally at my life, forcing me to contemplate, “You may not fall on the right side of the statistics this time. So, if this cancer means your time is up, what do you have to say about that?”

The scariest thing about my cancer is not the cancer that I have right now - the Stage IIB Grade 3 (most aggressive) Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It’s the cancer I might get later on. Even if I go into complete remission, I have a 34% chance of having a recurrence somewhere else in my body with the average relapse time of 2.6 years. This is also known as Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. There is no cure. Many of those people die, some very soon after the relapse. But recurrence rates drop dramatically after 3 years, and after 5 years people with my kind of cancer have virtually no chance of relapse.

My brain asks again, “So, if this cancer means your time is up, what do you have to say about that?”

I have been sitting here for what seems like hours trying to answer that question, but it just leaves me with more questions. Do I pay attention to the statistic that says I have a real chance of relapse that will likely kill me, or do I pay attention to the statistic that says that most women with my cancer do not relapse?

And then I feel an odd sense of calm. I have come up with an answer.

2.6 years. There’s an agreement here - this is the time both sides of the statistic say that I have. 

What I do with that information is the difference between living with cancer and dying with it.

What do I have to say about that?

I’m not done here. NOT YET. 

There are plays I want to share with the world.
There are more Christmases with my mother.
There are cities to visit that I’ve never seen: Berlin, Portland, Austin, Sydney, Rome
I want to take a long road trip with no firm destination.
There's the possibility of marriage and puppies in our future.
I want to see my theater company hit the Off-Broadway level so our artists can earn a living wage. Heck, *I* need earn a living wage as an artist.

I’m not done here. NOT YET.

There are more movies to cry to.
There are more songs I’ll sing to make YOU cry.
There are at least 120 more Saturday mornings to sleep in.
I have milestones to reach with my friends.
I need to be Candice's maid of honor.
I have resources I want to impart to anyone wanting empowerment.
I’m not waiting anymore.

I’m giving myself 6 more months of rest and sanctuary, to complete my treatments and get my body back into full health. During that time I will create my official bucket list. And when I’m at full strength I’ll tackle it. Because I have a number - 2.6 - that tells me everything I need to know about life.

So, yeah. It’s my birthday. I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking a little differently about it from now on. It’s somehow scary and peaceful all at the same time. But I still think I want reflect alone for this one...



Many of you have asked how you can help. I’ve created a wish list of things that would really make a difference as I go through treatment. Click here.

To read my medical updates, including how I’ve been doing with chemo treatments, click here.

I love comments almost as much as getting mail. Leave something below!

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

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