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 air 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 3 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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Top 10 Benefits of Going Through Chemo [HUMOR]

Artwork courtesy of ChemoNinjaStore

So often when someone talks about adversity you hear people say things like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “You’ll come out much stronger after going through this.”

My initial response is wanting to punch those people, but then I got to thinking - what ARE the positives of doing 16 rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer, aside from the obvious “maybe I won’t die”?



So here it is - my Top 10 Benefits of Going Through Chemo:

10) The mosquitos that bite me will never know what hit them. Suck on that!

9) The port they’ve sewn into me for injections and blood withdrawals makes me feel like a funky robot.

8) I haven’t had to shave my arms and legs for months.

7) I’m got dozens of wishes per day as my eyelashes fell out.

6) I have gotten over my phobia of needles (yay?)

5) I have a brand new internal furnace that eliminates the need for sweaters and scarves in the fall. (Chemo causes early menopause! Who knew?)

4) No eyebrows & no eyelashes = chic alien look.

3) The doctors tell me that I can eat whatever the f*ck I want - dieting can resume once treatment is done.

2) I got a free foot massage in the hospital every week

and...

1) I feel invincible knowing that there’s poison coursing through my veins and I’m still able to walk. The human body can be incredible!


I'm thrilled to announce that I completed chemotherapy January 5, 2016. Today is my first Tuesday that I haven’t been on a chemo schedule since August 2015. I feel immensely grateful that I was so well taken care of, and there was some sort of calm knowing that each week I was taking a positive step forward to fight the disease.

Luckily, I’m not done. The next chapter involves 30+ rounds of radiation, 5 days a week for 6+ weeks. I have my consultation with the radiation oncologist on Thursday to find our exactly what my treatment will entail. While I’m not looking forward to the daily appointments, inevitable radiation burns, and fatigue that comes with the treatment, I’m glad that there’s one more intense therapy that can improve my chances of going into full remission. What I’m most scared of is the day in mid-March when the treatment is all done and all I’ll have left is to sit & wait for the 5 year “all clear” announcement.

Meanwhile, David Bowie just died of cancer and I’m reminded of just how precious life is...

---

Many of you have asked how you can help. I’ve created a wish list of things that would really make a difference as I go through chemo and radiation treatments. Click here.

To read my medical updates, including how I’ve been doing with chemo treatments, click here.

I love comments almost as much as getting mail. Leave something below!


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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