Friday, July 3, 2015

I'm A Risk Factor

When I got my diagnosis - Triple Negative Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (which is a fancy way of saying Breast Cancer) I was stunned. All of my life I’ve been asked questions by doctors about my general health, and the common consensus was, “Well, you have no risk factors for XXX (cancer, stroke, heart attack, etc) - you don’t smoke, you keep your weight down, you eat healthfully, you have a meaningful outlook on life” etc etc. So when I went in with this pain in my breast, they ran me through the entire battery of questions about chest pain, because the possibility of breast cancer was so rare (like, less than 5% of cases are for women under the age of 40.) Could I have receive trauma in my chest? Is my asthma flaring up? Did I have a cold recently? And so on and so on.

When I answered ‘no’ to all of the above, they started asking me about my family history of cancers. Yes, my maternal aunt has breast cancer, but she was 65 when diagnosed and not considered a risk factor. Yes, my uncle has had renal cancer, but again it was over the age of 50 so not considered a risk factor. Yes, my grandmother had endometrial cancer but she was over the age of 70 and was not considered a risk factor. And even my own history of cancer (did you know that I had skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma?) wasn’t considered a risk factor. I was risk-free and still got cancer. Twice.

My own surprise at my diagnosis was big and it was palpable. But I wasn’t prepared for what the doctor would say to me next:

“Make sure you talk to all of the women in your family, because they are now at a greater risk for getting cancer.”


NEWS FLASH: 
I AM NOW A RISK FACTOR FOR MY FAMILY.


Even as I type this a chill is sent through my spine and I am filled with a sense of panic and dread. From now on the people I love will have to be extra careful because of what is going on with me. On the one hand, maybe this is a little nudge that will make a real difference in their health. But on the other hand I’m riddled with guilt. I know logically that I did not do anything wrong to make cancer happen. But I feel like I couldn’t forgive myself if someone got cancer but didn’t catch it soon enough to do something about it.

So, I did it. Before I was ready to tell the world what I was going through - before I had even processed it myself - I composed an email and sent it to all of the females in my family - aunts, cousins, nieces, sisters and my mom. I also shared with my brother and uncle since it may increase their chance for prostate or male breast cancer.

And I also consented to have full genetic testing done, because I feel like it’s my responsibility to provide my family with full information about our genetics. I should have the results back mid to late July. I think this will give me a lot of peace of mind, even if it shows up positive. I know I have great medical care, and if I’m genetically predisposed to cancer a) I can stop beating myself up for getting cancer, and b) I know that there are things I can do to offset the risks.

But I’m still afraid. Nix that, I’m terrified of what they’ll report. So, until I know I’ll be accepting your comments, love and support to help stave off the mid-grade panic that has been evolving...

Erin :)

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To read about my breast cancer story, click here. 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 http://www.erincronican.com.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Top 10 Benefits of Getting a Lumpectomy [Humor]


Pretty much the only way to deal with a difficult diagnosis is to they to find something positive about the experience. I've found that really hard to do when it comes to something as scary and life-changing as cancer, but I was still able to face my first treatment - a lumpectomy - with an unexpected dose of optimism. I've decided to include some of my observations here so, without further ado... here is my
Top 10 List of Benefits of Getting a Lumpectomy:

10) The radioactive dye they inject for the sentinel node biopsy gives you a little surprise in the bathroom - your pee turns bright blue!

9) The fashion is to die for:


8) Your sense of sarcasm is heightened. (See #9)

7) If you're lucky - and I sure was - your anesthesiology team will be incredibly good looking. There's nothing like flirting when someone's filling your veins with happy juice.*
* This is what my doctor called the cocktail he would give me to lower anxiety before putting me under. He was not kidding - I couldn't stop giggling...

6) Right after the surgery you get as much apple juice, graham crackers and ginger ale as you can stand. I could only stand one sip and bite of each, but the offer was appreciated. :)

5) I have earned the right to wear pink.

Can I have a pony?

4) The swelling makes my boob look bigger. Ah, cleavage! There you are! :)

3) The medication they give you for after-surgery pain makes you feel fuzzy.

2) A lumpectomy TAKES OUT THE CANCER.

and the #1 best thing about getting a lumpectomy:

1) The love from your friends! 

I have received so many amazing care packages and cards from people in my life. The well wishes have been too numerous to even count, but I wanted to include some shout outs of care packages I have received:

Original Silk Painting from Lee
Matzo ball soup (and more food) from Adam
Books and other gifts from Laura
A bag of organic prepared foods from Sue
Care package from Mary Ruth 
A crap ton of donations toward my theater company from a bunch of you!
...Essential oils and a diffuser from Cherie, loads of love and endless TV watching from Candice, fresh food from Tanya, the CUTEST handmade greeting cards and wee gifts from Mary, mini-bottles of bourbon from Veronica & Horatio, strawberries & chocolate from Janice, daisies from Michelle, chocolates from Virginia... I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting (and I promise to update this list as soon as I track those down!) I've also been able to spend more time talking to my mom and reconnected with my sister, which almost make it worth having cancer (I said almost.)

Seriously, your love has meant everything to me. Thank you so much for your support - YOU'RE #1!

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To read about my breast cancer story, click here. 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 http://www.erincronican.com.

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 him 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 iss 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 cancer diagnoses 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, and...um...it 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 1...meet 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.

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[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

Stage: 2 (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.

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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 http://www.erincronican.com.


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