Sunday, June 7, 2015

Yes. I Have Breast Cancer.

As I sat down to write this post, dozens of ideas swarmed in my head for what I wanted to say. But as I typed the subject header, my body went cold and mind went numb. I mean, how do you share with the world something so personal that you’d rather keep private, but something that you know will get out anyway so it may as well be YOU sharing it?

On Friday, May 15, 2015 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. 

I had been feeling some intermittent discomfort in late 2014 so I went to the doctor who did a full exam and felt nothing unusual. They asked me a whole host of questions, and since I was “so young and have no risk factors (so the likelihood of cancer is very small),” they suggested I keep an eye on things and come back if things got worse. The pain/discomfort continued off and on but never got worse, and everyone online stated that occasional pain was completely normal.

The weekend of May 1, I started having pain that was uncommon - more sharp pains rather than the dull ache I had noticed previously. While my boyfriend and I watched a movie, I decided to do a breast self exam and noticed a fairly large “dimple” in the breast next to my armpit. The best way I can describe it: it’s like I have an implant and the left side of it popped and deflated. When I felt that, I knew something was very wrong. I jumped up from the couch and went to the mirror. Brandon (my boyfriend) asked me what was wrong and in a fit of anxiety I yelled at him to leave me alone. I was too afraid of what I deep down knew was something very serious.

That was a Saturday, and I had to wait through the rest of the weekend before being able to make an appointment on Monday. In the meantime I did all of the research I could, and while pain evoked the “it’s likely nothing” message, the dimple evoked messages of, “Danger! Danger!”

On Tuesday I had an appointment with a physician’s assistant, and though she assured me that I was “so young and I have no risk factors (so the likelihood of cancer is very small)” she immediately referred me to a radiologist. who gave me a mammogram (most painful thing EVER, jesus christ on a cracker!) and sonogram that same day. The mammogram came back clear, but the sonogram came back with a suspicious area. They immediately scheduled me for a biopsy for Thursday, and I was told that it would take 4-5 days for the results. Again, the radiologist said I was “so young and I had no risk factors (so the likelihood of cancer is very small)” but they would get me an answer as soon as possible so not to worry.

Less than 24 hours later I receive a voicemail from the radiologist asking me to call him back right away on his cell phone. I looked at the clock. It was 5:22pm, and I thought, “Well, they wouldn’t give a cancer diagnosis over the phone, so maybe he wanted to give me the good news before the weekend.” But I had a sinking suspicion this would not be the case.
Me (ringing his number): Hi, it’s Erin Cronican returning your call.
Him: Oh...hello. It’s Dr. Lee, who did your biopsy. Um, I got the results back from the pathologist, was positive.
Me (knowing that doctors often say things that are the opposite of how it sounds): What does that mean?
Him: You have cancer.

Yep. They give cancer diagnoses over the phone.

The rest of his very short call was a blur. The lesion is less than 2cm...maybe Stage with a breast surgeon tomorrow... In the midst of this conversation, Brandon is staring at me trying to convince himself that everything is ok, when I mouth to him, “I have cancer.” I hang up my phone in a daze, dial the number he gave me for the surgeon (this was about 5:25pm at this point) and by 5:30pm I have an appointment for the next morning at 11am with a breast surgeon. I take a moment. I call my mother and when she picks up I ask her where she is and if she’s alone. I realize pretty fast that this is a terrible way to start a phone call so I make it even more awkward by blurting out, “I have cancer!” It didn’t help that my mother was currently visiting my aunt who just finished treatment for her breast cancer which was diagnosed at age 65. (Not a risk factor, as it turns out.)

After giving my mother all of the vital information I hung up the phone, paced around the apartment half crying half panicked, and then cleaned up my face, gathered myself together, and prepped the apartment for a pre-production dramaturgy session with the cast of the play I’m starring in this summer. The rest of the night I struggled to hold onto the last bit of normalcy which I already knew was gone. The roller coaster had left the station - my life will never be the same.


[UPDATED 6/25/15] Since then I have had additional biopsies, mammograms, sonograms, an MRI, a lumpectomy (to take the tumor out) and been stuck with more needles than I am comfortable mentioning. Did I mention that I have severe needle phobia that leads to panic attacks?

Here’s my official diagnosis (for those who research these sorts of things):

First, less than 5% of breast cancers happen to women under the age of 40. So, apparently I’m special. And rare.

Type: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Size: 2.1cm (initially it was thought to be 9mm, but the MRI and surgery showed otherwise)

Stage: IIB (They initially though it would be Stage 1 as my surgeon did not think it has spread. But one of my lymph nodes had the presence of cancer and was removed along with another which turned out to be healthy.)

Grade: 3 (which means it’s very aggressive)

ER: negative (not responsive to estrogen hormone)

PR: negative (not responsive to progesterone hormone)

HER2: negative. Initially I was scored as 2+. This is considered a “borderline” score, so they did further testing and discovered that I'm HER2 negative.

So, I'm considered "triple negative" which means they do not know what is giving the cancer strength. Only 10-20% of breast cancers are triple negative.

Prognosis: Very good if I follow all treatment protocol.

Treatment Recommendation: Surgery (lumpectomy, completed June 16), radiation, and Chemotherapy (which will likely happen starting in August, once my breast has healed fully from the surgery.) There is a slight chance that they may forego recommending chemo and head straight for radiation, but because I’m so young and my cancer is aggressive they usually recommend chemo to make sure no cancer has traveled anywhere else in my body.

I’m also awaiting results on genetic testing to see if I have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic variations that make me predisposed for cancer.


Moving forward, I will be using this blog to explore the many questions and concerns that come up for me as a person living with cancer - How does a workaholic learn how to take it easy? How will losing my hair affect my acting career? Will I find a silver lining (like finally being able to lose weight)?

I have also started a medical journal where I will be posting updates from appointments, treatments and procedures so that you can see how things are going for me, medically. I’ll also have guest posts from close friends and family who are accompanying me on my journey. You can find that journal here: PostHope: Erin Cronican. There you can leave comments, read my story, or (if you're so inclined) make a donation (since I’m self-employed and will have no income when/if I have to take time off for treatment.)

I have done a ton of research and can answer any questions you have about what is happening with me. Emails or texts (917-574-0417) are best. I may not be able to get back to everyone right away, but I will sure try. I would also welcome your support and love. I usually try to appear like I have everything under control, but this is one thing I can't manage on my own.

Much love to you all...

Erin  :)

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Breaking My Neck Each Night

When I was in college I did a paper on the Shakespeare tragedy, OTHELLO. In it, I talked about the play itself but also talked about modern adaptations (including the Kenneth Branaugh film) and how it related to current society. Little did I know that in 2015 I would get the chance to play one of my favorite written characters - Desdemona, with The Seeing Place Theater.

My love of Shakespeare goes back to middle school. I was in the school concert choir in 7th grade, and for one of our concerts we decided to put on a condensed version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, with just the mechanicals & fairy stories punctuated with the music of Mendelssohn (music which was set to the lyrics of Shakespeare’s songs in the play.) In that performance I got to play Bottom (one of many gender-bending roles in my early years as an actor.) I was fascinated by the language and the stories, and I had a heck of a lot of fun playing an ass.

In high school I gave myself the challenge of taking 4 full years of every subject possible rather than just the required minimum - math, science, English, foreign languages, etc. This meant that, to complete my English challenge, I got to take Honors level Shakespeare from our school’s expert, Mr. Parker. In that class we must have read 10-12 of Shakespeare’s plays, and at the end of the year each of us were assigned to study one play and present it to the class, either in book report form or as a presentation I was assigned, “ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL” and I opted for a mix of the two. I ended up writing a 30 page modern play adaptation which set the events of the play in current times. For my presentation, I set up each scene and assigned roles to my classmates, who read the play in front of the class.

So it comes as no surprise that I would be running a theater company that always produces plays with the intention of shining a light on modern times, exploring how the themes are relevant today. Our OTHELLO explored modern tensions between Arabs and Americans, especially Black Arabs who find themselves discriminated against both by black Christians, non-black Arabs, and Americans. As the co-director of the play, I got to influence much of the storytelling with my particular passion for equality. We opted to start the play with a beautiful pre-show ritual, where Othello gives Desdemona a traditional Muslim prayer shawl to be worn during their wedding, while Othello wore a suit similar to those worn by Christian grooms. In this brief pre-show (set to intoxicating tribal music), we wanted to show the audience what it’s like to have two very different people embrace and accept one another’s differences and blend them together to create a new life.

Desdemona and Othello, united

I also had traditional Mehndi on my hands - the henna tattoos that Muslim women put on their hands and feet when getting married. We chose to do this so that, to detractors, I would always seem “marked” by Othello, no matter how happy we seemed. And when Othello (spoiler alert) prepares to kill Desdemona and calls it an honor killing, he says the traditional Muslim prayer for peace. (Scholars generally agree that Othello converted to Christianity after being baptized - in our telling of the story this was the case but he reverts back to his roots when Christianity fails him.) The Muslim prayer was particularly upsetting for many audience members on both sides of the issue. Some thought that this proved that all Arabs wanted to kill Christians, and some of the Muslims that saw the show were worried that this peaceful prayer would continue to be connected erroneously to violence. What was so exciting about this directorial choice is that IT GOT PEOPLE TALKING. In our “advanced” society we all know it is taboo to express racism against blacks. But for some reason racism is alive and well against Arabs and many Americans have been conditioned to think that way. Focusing on this part of the storytelling allowed our audience to experience the downfall of Othello in a whole new way, and they got to explore their own attitudes about race and religion in America.

Aside from the community impact of the play, it was pure joy to be able to perform with this talented group of actors each night. And our theater was small and intimate - just 70 seats - which means that audience members were very close to the action. So in my final scene where Othello tells Desdemona to say her last prayers, I was no more than 2 frets away from the first row of seats, so they got a palpable sense of what it was like to witness a marital spat gone horribly wrong. My co-star, Ian Moses Eaton, was terrifying. We had a carefully choreographed fight scene which involved him lurching at me, almost hunting me as his prey, when he finally grabs me and I plead for my life, he says, “It is too late” and he grabs for my throat to choke the life out of me. My servant Emilia comes in and find me barely alive, but it is indeed too late and after a few words absolving my husband, I die.

I’ve seen a number of productions where the death was highly unbelievable. Desdemona gets strangled for 2 minutes and seems to be dead, but then she somehow resurrects enough to says her 3 lines clearly right before she dies. Both I and my co-director wanted to make the death as realistic as possible, but were stumped - how can Desdemona be left for dead and still be able to talk before she dies?

Othello strangles Desdemona

That’s when we came up with an idea - maybe she doesn’t die from strangulation in particular. Maybe his strangling her sets something in motion that takes some time to complete. What if Othello, in a fit of rage, snaps her windpipe? This would immediately change things in the fight and allow Othello to step away from Desdemona, knowing that her demise is near, and it would allow me to continue to gasp for air and do everything I can to communicate when Emilia enters the room.

It was brilliant. Once the neck was snapped, I put out this pitiful squeaking sound and intermittently gurgled, which gave the audience a gruesome look at what death by strangulation might look like. It was so much fun to do that scene each night, knowing what was in store for the audience.

Desdemona in happier times...

To see more photos from the show and to read many of the incredible reviews from both critics and audiences, visit:

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Opening Yourself To Others

I found myself really inspired by one element of the movie WILD. Reese Witherspoon’s character, Cheryl, tackles the Pacific Crest Trail by herself and as time goes on she gets farther and farther away from civilization. There are so few moments that she sees another person that when she finally does see someone, her needs are so great that all fear is put aside for the necessity of getting someone’s help.

Example: Needing food and a shower so badly that she got into the car of a strange man and rather than flee when she got nervous, she simply lied about having a husband on the trail ahead of her. Her survival instinct forced her to create community when all signs pointed to getting the heck out of there.

SPOILER ALERT (do not read if you plan to see the movie)

What’s possible when opening yourself up, against all odds, is connecting with your fellow human being - even if only for a moment. Cheryl is initially terrified that he’ll take advantage of her - a pre-judgment we’re all accustomed to heeding. Instead, he takes her to his home and his wife makes her a home cooked meal. This possibility of community kept being created time and time again, and it was beautiful to watch.

Obviously I know this can be somewhat idealistic - bad things happen in the world from which our defenses rightly protect us. But what’s missing from our world of devices and instant news is relatedness. - true relatedness, not just the kind where we’re aware of something but when we actually experience it.

I’m noticing that I’m only participating in the world at its periphery rather than jumping right in. I don’t know yet exactly how I want to address this issue, but I’ve uncovered a “blind spot” I didn’t know I had and the discovery has really been fascinating.

What about you? What do you think about your connection to your community? Leave a comment and tell me your thoughts!

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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