Saturday, March 2, 2019

Symptoms From Cancer

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, and people have been wondering how things are going. It seems curt to say, “I’ve been busy dealing with cancer” but that’s kind of the truth.

You wouldn’t believe how much effort goes into trying to stay well once you get a terminal diagnosis. There are so many symptoms from the cancer, side effects from the treatment, and then difficulties from trying to live - and they all exhaust me. I try to stay positive, because being positive is one way I have control over what’s going on. But I have to be honest. This whole thing is really, really hard.

Over the last few months there has been quite a lot that I’ve been dealing with physically:

Shortness of Breath
This, my friends, is no joke. My shortness of breath is extreme. I can’t walk AT ALL without getting winded, and doing anything strenuous (including climbing stairs or lifting packages) puts me into a huffing and puffing mess. And this kind of breathlessness is not like normal breathlessness, when you push yourself too hard. I literally cannot catch my breath because my breathing is too shallow to begin with - my chest is tight and I can only breath in a short amount before I have to breath out again. So doing anything strenuous causes extreme discomfort - and worse, it creates a panic response and can trigger a panic attack if I don’t actively calm myself. This difficulty happens EVERY TIME I climb stairs - in the subway, in my apartment, in other buildings. In order to make sure I don’t pass out, I have to walk VERY slowly up the stairs (much to the annoyance of other subway passengers - I usually wait for the rush to pass before I try to go up the stairs.) And by the time I’m at the top of the stairs, I’m breathing so heavily that people either stare or ask me if I’m ok. I have to breathlessly thank them and let them know I have a lung condition.

Loss of Appetite
Food is not very much fun these days. Because I can’t really eat it. I have 2-3 bites of something and immediately feel full. For the past month, I’ve lost weight and lost energy. (Although, I admit that losing weight is kind of fun, the lack of energy really sucks.) Which leads to...

Yeah, so this is a thing. I happen to have low blood pressure and for the past two months I’ve noticed that I get very lightheaded when I stand up. Well, one night I stood up too quickly and got lightheaded, and I leaned over in the kitchen to try to steady myself. Next thing I knew I was on the floor with blood pouring out of my face, because I had fainted and my glasses had gouged my brow bone and eyelid. I was very, very lucky - no real damage other than two cuts and massive bruising and swelling. It could have been so much worse. But it was really scary. Not sure if it's the low blood pressure or the low energy or a combination of both, but all of this has led to me getting a brain MRI, which I'll get to results for next week.

Paralyzed Vocal Cord
After 3 months of speaking difficulties, I finally got a diagnosis - my right vocal cord is paralyzed. This likely happen as a result of the lung surgery I had in November. Strangely, the nerve that serves the larynx wraps down into the lungs and it can often be damaged during surgery. This was the case with me, and it took so long to diagnose because I assumed that I was simply recovering from the breathing tube that they used during surgery. But I wasn’t getting better, and no speech therapy or medicinal fixes worked to solve the problem. Once I got diagnosed, everything began to make sense and I could finally find a specialist that could help. Paralysis can be permanent or temporary - some cords/nerves heal themselves over time, and that’s the hope for mine. I had a procedure done last week to put a temporary “filler” in my vocal cord to strengthen it, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement already. The filler will solve things while my nerve (hopefully) heals itself. The doctor said the filler will last 3-4 months, and it can be done again if my nerve hasn’t regenerated by the time it wears off.

Due to the tightness in my chest and the immense amount of mucus and fluid that comes from the cancer, I have a very labored cough. It’s especially bad in the morning (after lying down all night) and most mornings I cough so much that I throw up, sometimes multiple times. It’s very difficult for me to have what they call a “productive” cough, because of my paralyzed vocal cord. The vibration from the cords when coughing can loosen mucus, but since one of mine doesn’t move coughing doesn’t really work very well, so I end up drowning in my own mucus. (Gross, I know, but it’s a fact.)

All of the above has had its weight on me emotionally. Not being able to speak fully, not being able to breath, not being able to move fully for fear of fainting... this all makes it difficult to socialize or find the energy to do anything fun. Thank goodness for social media, where I can stay connected to people and live somewhat vicariously through them.

It’s also had a huge impact financially. Since my doctors' offices are often far away from public transit, I’m forced to use taxis and hired cars to get to doctor’s appointments because I can't breathe well enough to walk. I’m also using Seamless more often than I’d like to admit because it’s hard for me to get to the store to buy food and even when I have food it's hard to get the energy to cook. Working is very difficult with all of the physical ailments I have (and doctor’s appointments take up so much time - I had 6 last week alone.) So finances have taken a huge toll. So many of you have written and asked how you could help. I’ll refer to you a blog post I wrote about that - I’m eternally grateful for anything you’re willing and able to do to help:

I’ll have a further update on my health next week after I meet with my oncologist - I’ll be learning whether or not my treatment has been working or whether my cancer has spread. Please keep me in your thoughts...

Erin :)

Erin Cronican is a breast cancer patient 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. Thank you for the achingly profound description of your cancer journey, and for your courageous efforts to find things to feel positive about. I send you love and admiration.

  2. Thinking of you, Erin! I can't imagine what this feels like. I wish I were closer to offer in-person help. Will check out other ways to help you as well. Sending hugs :)


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