Saturday, July 30, 2016

The New Me

As I have talked about in previous blog posts, one of the hardest parts of getting breast cancer is dealing with the physical changes due to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And there a double whammy with these changes. Not only have they taken a physical and mental toll, but they also wreaked havoc on my career. Because as an actor body image impacts just about everything. It’s not just what you look like, but how you feel in your own skin that makes a difference.

For a few years I put “making money” as an actor on hold as I worked to build up The Seeing Place (my theater company.) But at the beginning of 2015 I made a new commitment to dust off the ol’ headshots & resumes, get back onto the casting websites, and start submitting myself for paying work again. And just as I started to do that, I got my cancer diagnosis and everything stopped. Just stopped. First, it was recovering from surgery. Then, it was being sick during 5 months of chemotherapy. Then, it was having to find the energy to drag myself to radiation treatments every single day for 7 weeks. Once all of this was done in April, one would think that I would be able to start auditioning right away. But the side effects lingered on, and not in ways that I anticipated.

It’s been really upsetting knowing that I had the time to pursue work as an actor but the psycho-emotional/physical impact of the disease and treatment have kept me from putting myself out there. First, I don’t know if I can adequately describe what it’s like to look in the mirror and see someone you don’t know staring back at you. I felt like my identity was ripped from me and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d look in the mirror and see an alien - puffed up skin with no eyelashes or eyebrows, short stubby hair, sunken eyes. I hated myself so much that I didn’t take any pictures during this time. I actively avoided the camera unless I was making some kind of funny face - because then at least we could all laugh about what I was doing and we could overlook the way I appeared.

As I’ve mentioned, I lost my hair so it’s taken some time for it to grow to a length that I feel comfortable sharing with the world. I gained about 15 pounds during treatment due to the steroids they had me on to combat chemo side effects. All of the weight that was gained went to my upper body (which is very rare for me but apparently common for steroid weight gain.) Not only did none of my clothes fit, but I hated the way I looked in photos. My face felt fat and my upper body seemed to overwhelm any photo I was in. I was very ashamed of the way I looked, and even though I knew it wasn’t my fault I felt guilty that I couldn’t get my body under control.

It’s taken me about 8 months and I’m just now starting to recognize a “me” that I can relate to and feel comfortable putting out there. I’ve lost almost all of the weight I gained so now I’m working to get to a pre-cancer weight. My scars are starting to heal - they still itch and ache, and I still have tons of swelling that causes pain, but for the most part that can be covered up with clothing. And I’m so relieved to know that my stylist has found a haircut that works for my face and I’m really loving it. I put in a streak of hot pink in my hair as a sort of gift to myself for everything I had gone through. (By the way, one thing that’s weird - sometimes I feel like I have a ponytail and I go to grab it and it’s not there! Is that like a phantom limb? A phantom ponytail??) And in the last few weeks I have started to get some of my old energy back.


It’s time for me to re-introduce myself to the acting community. A new me. And it all starts with new headshots.

I was very nervous for the photo session. I wrote to the photographer that I was anxious about looking heavy in my photos, and I was also questioning my choice to keep the pink in my hair. I just couldn’t bear to remove it, though, and my photographer reassured me that we could do retouching on the photos if I ever took the pink out. So I swallowed all of my fears and last Friday I traveled to the Upper West Side to shoot with Mendez Photography. I had a lot of fun, and though I was a little restrained throughout the process I got some really great shots out of it.

Here are a few from the proofs - they have not been retouched yet so be kind!

Photos by Mendez Photography

I’ve done the task of figuring out exactly the type of work I want to be doing and how I want to promote myself for that work (also known as “branding” in our industry.) So my next step is to update my website and all of the casting websites with my new materials and start putting myself out there. The hope is that I’ll be able to reignite things that way I wanted to before I got sick. And maybe, just maybe, this illness will yield deeper, more expressive work that will bring me an income that will make living in NYC easier and more fulfilling.


To see my description of what happened the day I was diagnosed, check out my first post, “Yes, I Have Breast Cancer.” And here is a link to all of my cancer posts.

To experience the art I’ve created through grief, come see me in the play GETTING OUT with The Seeing Place Theater - July 16-August 7, 2016.


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


  1. Erin:
    I so admire the manner in which you have handled all of the challenges with which you have been forced to deal. Your new photos look great and I hope that you will be back on the boards or in from of the camera soon.

    Be well!

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