Friday, July 26, 2019

Being Thin...Because of Cancer



Some real talk about the impact of cancer on your brain as well as your body...

I just watched a documentary about eating disorders and I’m feeling very emotional right now. I don’t have an eating disorder, but I felt such a kinship with the girls in the movie that I’m still aching for them hours later. I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I’ve had a dangerous amount of weight loss due to my cancer - about 40 pounds lost in a 4 month period. It’s due to a complete loss of appetite which has been happening since February 2019, even before my chemo started in late March. I look at food, and I just can’t eat it. I’m never hungry and feel full all the time. The thought of eating makes me completely upset - I’m mad at my body because I can’t eat and no amount of willpower makes it possible to start a meal, let alone finish one.

What’s been eye-opening about this whole experience is how the weight loss has affected me mentally/emotionally.

At first I was pretty excited about losing weight, because my weight has been anxiety-provoking for me my whole life. From the time I was a teenager I’ve hated how I looked. I’ve always had extra weight around my thighs/butt - no matter how athletic I was. My high school boyfriend told me I had a “butt crinkle” - his term for the fat beneath my butt. No matter how hard I’ve tried, no matter how much I worked out and ate healthfully, I’ve never been able to get rid of that “butt crinkle.” I’ve hated myself for having it. And I’ve never been able to get rid of the devastating memory of being told that. That self-hatred has impacted every romantic relationship I’ve ever had, every piece of clothing I’ve ever purchased, and created deep anxiety every time I’ve tried on costumes for a show I’ve done. I always felt like I was too large to be considered attractive. And being an actor, attractiveness is EVERYTHING.

I’m not sure why I’ve never had an eating disorder. The negative thoughts certainly were there. Part of it is probably a willpower thing - I simply love food and drink too much and that outweighs the negative self-image. I’m not strong enough to resist. (I know what that sounds like, but I can’t put it any other way.) Especially living in NYC... I have too much wonderful food and booze at my fingertips, and too many social occasions are centered around these things to ever have been able to cut back. So I resigned myself to being “fat,” even though in my heart of hearts I knew that it probably wasn’t true.

Fast forward to being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer... one day a few months ago, my boyfriend said, “You don’t look so good. You’re losing weight.” I asked him why that was a bad thing. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, “you haven’t lost weight in your whole body, just the bottom part. Your upper part still looks like it did.” I immediately began to obsess over the fact that my upper body was obviously disgusting. I started looking at my upper body every day - when would I lose weight there? When would I be able to buy smaller clothes and finally feel good about myself? I was mad that I would still look fat in pictures, even though my weight was decreasing.

I hadn’t been trying to lose weight and yet my weight was dropping. Which was weird, because weight loss had always been so difficult for me. I went on an extreme diet from Oct-Dec 2018 and only lost 10 pounds. I was torn - on the one hand I was excited to know that I was getting closer to my “goal weight” of 130, but I knew my health was on the line. How was this happening?

Looking back, I noticed that I wasn’t finishing my meals - my eyes were always bigger than my stomach. I yearned to finish but I just couldn’t eat any more. I chalked it up to being busy - I was producing two shows, directing one and starring in the other. But shortly thereafter, my body stopped wanting meals at all. No matter what favorite meal was put in front of me, I couldn’t eat - the thought of even taking a bite made me incredibly nauseous. It got to the point that I was taking in less than 500 calories a day. 500 calories, in fact, was a GOOD day. I noticed that drinking my calories was easier than eating, so I started drinking Ensure Plus in the mornings which would guarantee at least 350 calories (with protein and vitamins) and I would usually be able to eat part of a small meal at night. I celebrated every bite I was able to take and yearned to be able to do more. Unfortunately, many times I would be able to get food down and then I would become nauseous and throw it all up, negating all of the hard work I’d done just to finish the food.

I felt defeated all the time.

I was weak. My blood pressure was really low. I had no energy. And no matter what I did I was unable to eat. I was prescribed a drug that increases appetite but the side effects were so bad that I needed to stop. People keep tell me to smoke pot for the “munchies” but I hate the way pot makes me feel. Each week I was weighed before chemo, and my weight was dropping significantly.
• I started at 144 in January.
• I was 128 when I started chemo on March 21.
• 121 on April 23.
• 115 on May 28.
• 109 on June 18.
Due to the loss of muscle and rapid fat loss, my skin hangs off my bones. I have wrinkles on my arms and legs, and what fat I have left in my breasts and butt just hangs there. I look like a little, old lady. It seems really unfair - I finally am at a weight where I could *consider* getting into a bathing suit for the first time in 15 years, but my body looks really unhealthy.

Fast forward to watching the documentary today. Even though I don’t have the emotional compulsion to restrict my diet the way that typical anorexics do, cancer has made the result the same. I still have an anorexic body. I’m still visited by a nutritionist every time I have chemo because my weight is of such concern. My life is still consumed by thoughts about food - will I be able to eat today? How much? How often? I’m counting calories like a fiend and trying to add more every possible way I can without getting sick. It’s exhausting.

I’ve had a turn-around in the past few weeks. For the first time since February, I have been able to eat several small meals a day. I’ve been holding steady at 108 pounds for the past month, when the trajectory would suggest I would have lost another 10 pounds. I haven’t thrown up in about a week and a half (which was happening daily, so that’s a real win!) I’m probably up to about 750-900 calories a day over the last 2-3 weeks. It’s been HARD to accomplish. I’ve been extremely frustrated that I haven’t gained weight, but my mother reminded me of something that has made me feel better. First, I’ve been eating enough to fuel my body, so it hasn’t needed to eat itself to survive. Yay Erin! But she also reminded me that 1 pound equals 3500 calories - I would have to take in an extra 3500 calories to gain one pound. That seems impossible! So I’m celebrating the small wins as best I can and am trying to go easy on myself.

I’ll tell you one thing - I never thought I’d ever complain about being too thin! Yet here we are. Thank you, cancer, for that surprise!

I’ve looked back over what I’ve written and started having doubts about being so vulnerable. It’s been a long time since I’ve talked so openly about something so fraught for me. But I’m hoping that my openness will help me start addressing the inner demons around this topic. I have a great therapist with whom I’ve started to express these demons. Who knows, maybe sharing my story here will help people who are going through the same thing. I am getting a certain amount of catharsis just from writing, so I thank you for reading this far and being so supportive...

EDITED: Some people are asking about the GoFundMe page to help with my expenses. Here it is: https://www.gofundme.com/erin-cronican


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.

6 comments:

  1. Oh my darling girl. This is flashing me back to so many friends who had the same experience, trying to encourage them to take "a bite," the struggle they went through. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel so far away from you, but your amazing bravery and honesty brings the struggle to vivid life.

    Weight and looks are fraught topics for so many people, but as I well know, especially actors. I won't offer advice or platitudes (platitudes are easy to skip, but advice? I'm the freaking Earth Mamma Bear, but you're a grown ass woman. I love you and know you for the beautiful, beautiful Light you are.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Erin, thank you for your courage and eloquence. Your generosity is a gift to us all. Did you ever get a chance to listen to this? It's three short links, but full of food for thought... pardon the expression...

    Xoxo
    Lili

    In case anyone else needs to hear this as much as I did today.

    Look at you! ❤
    https://www.bvuuf.org/services/beauty-and-the-body/?fbclid=IwAR39c37I8FiKiUFj7IgqE1JOZFNS8BKTuG41YCzyuzMZ-RqOctDQNxnCbgg

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, as always, for opening yourself up and presenting the truth to us. I am glad you are able to eat more now, and hopefully will be able to continue maintaining your weight. You are, and always have been, beautiful, (REALLY beautiful) whatever weight. It saddens me to hear the struggles you've had with self-image, and I am glad you are working with a therapist that you like. Bringing these things into the light is very important to healing. What you wrote here must also be very freeing for you! My continued love and good wishes to you, the bravest person I know. xo, Janice

    ReplyDelete
  4. Has anyone mentioned smoking pot to increase your appetite? I believe there are documented side effects of relaxing as well, which may aid in keeping the fuel in your body. And I'd just like to say this: the weight game is a bitch, and one that those of us who struggle with it can NEVER win simply because of those demon voices in our heads telling us how we will never be enough: thin enough, toned enough, weigh enough.........the list is endless. So I would gently suggest you tell all the negative voices to STFU and focus on what you are doing that is positive: getting more fuel in, not losing weight, working it out with a therapist. The negative has had its fair share. Time to highlight the positives.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello Erin!! I hope you are hanging there!! We are rooting for you!!! Much love, Rosemary Stevens

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh baby.
    I am always afraid that I will be taken in a way that was never meant.
    You are beautiful inside and out. Your circumstances cannot change that and I am so sorry that you are going through this, especially at this time in your life. Please don’t ever doubt your beauty and your worth. I know this struggle is draining for you but your spirit still shines in all that you do and you know that “ugly is to the bone”.
    Love you and continually send healing mojo your way.
    Linda Walker

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting- YOU ROCK!


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