Thursday, March 24, 2016

I'm A Survivor

I have been sitting here staring at the title I just wrote for this post, having the hardest time knowing where to start. I have just finished active treatment for breast cancer, and now I’m in what they call the phase of “survivorship.”


I looked up the work “Survivor” in the dictionary, and here is what it said:

• a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died. Example: ”the sole survivor of the massacre"

• the remainder of a group of people or things. Example: ”a survivor from last year's team"

• a person who copes well with difficulties in their life. Example: ”she is a born survivor"

And this is what people have been saying to me when I’ve told them that I’m done with treatment:
“You’re cancer free!”
“You’re done!”
“You’re better now!”
And that makes sense, given the definition listed above. But Survivorship means something different in the cancer world. According to the National Cancer Institute, here is the definition:
“In cancer, survivorship focuses on the health and life of a person with cancer post treatment until the end of life. It covers the physical, psychosocial, and economic issues of cancer, beyond the diagnosis and treatment phases. Survivorship includes issues related to the ability to get health care and follow-up treatment, late effects of treatment, second cancers, and quality of life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also considered part of the survivorship experience.”
So when someone asks me if I’m planning a party to celebrate "the end of cancer" I almost don’t know what to do.

Because I’m not done. I will never be done with cancer. For the next 5 years I will be going through an inordinate amount of tests to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. (I wrote at length here about the prognosis for my kind of cancer recurring.) And thereafter will always been someone who almost lost her life, and that changes you. Will I be fine? Yes. Am I better? I don't know. I'm pretty sure that if given the option I would have never wanted to get cancer, no matter how much of a silver lining I fight to see.

But I do feel an immense sense of accomplishment. As of Saturday, March 19, I am completely done with active breast cancer treatment. I stare at myself in the mirror and marvel at how resilient my body has been through this whole process: 2 biopsies, 2 surgeries, 16 rounds of the most intense chemo they could throw at me, and 33 rounds of radiation. I have had more scans and needles sticks than I care to count, and my body has withstood these invasions with aplomb. I didn't know I was so strong, and I am in awe of my body and truly honor it in a way I didn't know possible.

The one thing that did not survive, so to speak, was my long blonde hair which I had worked ravenously to save. For the past 5 months I’ve been in a pretty deep depression about the loss of my hair, covering my naked head with hats and a wig. When I lost my hair I lost my sense of self. I no longer knew who I was - and hated who I saw in the mirror. I was at war with myself daily, and here was no end in sight.

But this week, to commemorate the end of treatment, I bucked up my courage and took my scrawny, newly grown locks to the hair salon, where I spent several hours creating a whole new look with my stylist. I have never in my life had short hair, and it was time to face the fact that I can't ignore it anymore. Hiding will not make the problem go away. It's time to embrace it, and find out who I am now.

And it’s as if I’ve been reborn - perhaps not the way I had envisioned, but no phoenix rises from the ashes in the same form they were before the fire. And within one day, I have fallen in love with myself once again.

I'm back. 

So, without further ado... The New Normal:

Twiggy...eat your heart out!

And yes, if you look closely enough you’ll see that I gave myself a bit of naughty color - a big stripe of purple to bring life back to my being:

I'm a little bit rock and roll...

So...What’s next for me?

Well, as the definition says above, my focus for the next 5 years is survivorship. I have to take care of this body, but I also now know how precious life is so I will do everything I can to squeeze every last of goodness out of it. I will continue to create with my amazing theater company, I will continue to love and support my friends, and I will try to leave the planet and humanity a little bit better each day. I’m commit to expressing all of myself and not holding back, letting go of the small anxieties, and learning everything I can about the world we live in. No sticking my head in the sand. No running away when things get tough. LIVING.

I look forward to keeping you on this journey with me. Please leave a comment so I know you were here!

Erin :)

PS: I have a bunch of “retrospective” posts that I will be sharing about some of my inner thoughts as I’ve gone through treatment. I’m going through my personal diaries to pull some of the better excerpts, and will share them soon.


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.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Performing Howard Ashman

A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing honor of singing in the cabaret event, “Gone Too Soon: A Tribute to Howard Ashman” at the Metropolitan Room in NYC.

It is always so wonderful being able to sing with some of my favorite performers, including Adam Shapiro and Janice Hall. But as the concert date approached, I realized that the event was fulfilling a long held dream I had forgotten I had: offering my own interpretation of Howard Ashman’s amazing lyrics.

The event's host, Adam Shapiro, reached out to me and said that each singer would get to perform two songs, and though I could choose anything I wanted he hoped that I would be willing to sing, “Part of Your World.” I was so thrilled and said yes immediately, and then made my own special request - would he be willing to join me for the duet, “Suddenly Seymour” (a long held favorite of mine)? He agreed, and my challenge was set.

The performance was scheduled for January 19, exactly two weeks after my last round of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, I had caught a severe chest cold during the holidays which my poor, compromised immune system could not fight off, and it was lingering well into January. I started to worry if I would be able to perform fully. I laid low and did all of the things singers do to preserve their voices - limited my talking, upped my intake of water and local organic raw honey, steamed until my asthma got the best of me, practically freebased slippery elm and licorice root, and packed in all of the antioxidants I could muster. The day of the show arrived, and I was (thankfully) in full voice and ready to perform.

When I got to the venue for sound check something hit me. I had been spending all of my time worrying about my body being able to perform that I forgot the magnitude of what I was about to do. My god - I was about to sing two classic Howard Ashman songs at his tribute! I immediately started tearing up, and nostalgia set in. I was transported back to my childhood when the renaissance of Disney began to take hold, with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. I was transformed into my childhood self who wore out her little record player, then cassette recorder, then CD player with the full gamut of Disney albums. With those deep memories came the dreams and hopes present in any child whose whole life is ahead of them. It’s not a cliche - I truly felt like a kid again.

But there was a somber air to the performance as well. Howard Ashman died 25 years ago from complications from AIDS. The tribute was not only a celebration of his music but also of his life, which was snuffed out too quickly. And I sat there throughout the concert realizing, “My god. I also have a life threatening illness, just as indiscriminate as HIV. Will my life be snuffed out too early, too?” It brought to the surface so many fears, and I ached for what Howard and his friends & family must have experienced.

In the end, I was left with how lucky I was to be able to share my personal expression with so many people that evening. How art is the great connector that transcends all of the barriers that tear a community apart. It made me even more determined to continue to make art happen, even if conventional wisdom says I should be laying low.

I didn't get any photos or recording of this event, but I have performed & recorded a version of "Part of Your World" in the past (with a surprise comedy bit added.) Check out the video, with the incomparable Cris O'Bryon on piano. 



As always, thank you for your support. If you're looking for ways to help, you can check out this blog post with my wish list, which is making all the difference in the world. 

Erin :)



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 http://www.erincronican.com.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Update: Chemo Is Done!


Hello! I’m so sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted a "real" update. In October 2015 I went from having chemo once every two weeks to having it weekly, and it truly took over my life. Most days were spent trying to figure out how to manage my side effects while also attending to the important things in my life.

Dealing with the day to day illness was not as easy as I thought it would be. I stepped back my day job (career coaching for actors) to only 10 students a week, a drastic cut from the 20-25 I was used to. I had to take Tuesdays off due to being at the hospital all day, and I added another day off (Fridays) so that I could give myself a rest on the day that side effects reared their heads the strongest.

I was also producing two shows with The Seeing Place - directing one of the them and starring in the other - which were in pre-production and rehearsals on October and November and then ran for 3 weeks December 4-20. The shows went really well, by the way (see reviews here!) - they even received an “Honorable Mention” distinction in Manhattan With A Twist’s “Top 10 Productions of 2015” award - there are hundreds of indie companies in NYC, so to have our company singled out with 14 other amazing productions is a hugely impressive distinction.

Then the holidays came, where I finally got to see my mom for the first time since my diagnosis and I also got to see my dear friend, Laura, who has also been through breast cancer and accompanied me to one of my appointments. And on December 20 I was hit with the longest running chest cold of my life. I only just started to get better yesterday, 3 weeks after being run down by it. My life has been an exercise in patience and self-preservation.

The side effects of chemotherapy have been less intense than I imagined but somehow far more difficult to deal with than I ever imagined. If they had been more intense (losing weight, extreme nausea, etc) I would have been chained to my bed and forced to rest. Instead, the side effects “only” left me feeling like I had a flu for 5 months (pain in my bones, achiness in all of my muscles, listlessness, fatigue, shortness of breath when exerting myself, stomach cramps after every meal, congestion, loss of voice from coughing, numbness in all 10 of my toes, temporary weight gain from the steroids that made none of my clothes fit, extremely low white blood cell count, and generally feeling drugged up.) But I still “seemed fine” to everyone around me so I convinced myself that I was healthier than I was and pushed myself really hard. The result? Anytime I had down time I crashed and slept. In November and December I did little to no socializing, pretty much staying in bed unless I had to teach or be at the theater. This exhaustion kept me from doing much of anything, much less blogging or writing. And I started to feel like my life would never get back on track. I’ve never been very good at slowing down, so the last few months have been really awful.

I thought that when I reduced my day job workload it would free me up to do some things for myself - take time to explore the city, brainstorm about where I want my life to go, do little personal creative projects (like reading, coloring, writing poetry, etc.) Instead I found myself sleeping or just reading social media in a daze because I couldn’t get my mind to really focus on anything when my body felt so depleted. So now that I’m done with chemo I look back and wonder where the time went? I had such good intentions for my time “under the drip.”

I also had a development with my hair that I didn’t expect, which threw me into a deep depression for a couple of weeks. While the cold caps were effective in keeping hair on my head, what I didn’t expect was that in early November absolutely all of the blonde hair I had BROKE OFF at the place where my roots had grown in. Meaning - right now instead of long blonde hair with about 2-3 inches of my natural brown roots, I only have 2-3 inches of my natural brown roots. No more length, no more blonde. I had no idea this was possible. I followed the hair care instructions to the finest point and read pages upon pages of message boards - I never heard about people’s hair breaking off. The only thing I can figure is that my hair became too brittle and weak due to the chemo, and broke at the last place it had been bleached. I look a little like Anne Hathaway in Les Mis when she chops her hair, except that because of the chemo I had already shed 50% of my hair and so it looks less full and much more choppy. Definitely not sexy or attractive.

This is Anne, not me. Though we do share a birthday, so maybe we are the same person. 
(And, with respect, please don’t comment to say, “You’ll look good with short hair!” Understand that this has been devastating for me, especially after the intense pain and countless hours of using the cold caps - the only appropriate response to cancer patients who lament their hair loss is, “I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this.”)

So I enter 2016 not really knowing who I am or what’s ahead. My identity was so wrapped up in the package I presented to the world - now I look in the mirror and there’s someone there that I don’t recognize. I have 4 scars across my chest, my hair makes me look like a refugee, and I’m still deep in the side effects of chemo even though my last drip was a week ago. (Chemo lingers in the body for a while, and the 12 straight weeks of my last cocktail show cumulative effects that are hardest at the end.)

What's also been very hard is reading about all of the deaths this week from cancer. I was hardest hit by those closest to home. An actor colleague of mine, Rick Delaney, passed away from cancer. And Holley Kitchen, who changed the world with her devastating video about her metastatic breast cancer, just passed away. The video was posted about a month after my diagnosis, a time I learned that even if I do all of the right things I still have a 34% chance of having the cancer come back as Stage 4. Her death is so personally upsetting that I could barely speak today. 

I spent 95% of my time "fighting" and "staying positive" and "being inspiring" - so please forgive me when the 5% overtakes me. It's a dark fight, and scary fight, and sometimes I just need to be allowed to express my fears and live them for a moment so that I don't bottle things up (which is far worse - fake positivity does nothing good for the body.) This is why I might hibernate sometimes so that I can come back out to the world a more stable, fearless, "warrior" that you know me to be.

I had a consultation with my radiation oncologist today where we put together a plan for radiation - 5.5 weeks (28 treatments) of radiation across my left chest, underarm and collarbone (to get the full breast plus all of my lymph nodes) and then 5 more targeted treatments just into the area where the cancer was found. I’ll post more when I know more. In the meantime, most of my medical updates can be found at my blog at PostHope.

As always, thank you for your support. If you're looking for ways to help, you can check out this blog post with my wish list, which is making all the difference in the world.

Erin :)


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 http://www.erincronican.com.


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