A Day In The Life Podcast - Jen Curran
The “A Day in the Life” podcast from the International Myeloma Foundation features messages of hope and resilience for myeloma patients, caregivers, and their loved ones. This episode features an interview with Jen Curran, which was recorded on February 21, 2020. Jen was the opening speaker at the IMF’s 13th Annual Comedy Celebration in Los Angeles, where she shared her story of being diagnosed and now living with myeloma.
Jen Curran is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, with her husband, one-year-old daughter, and too many pets. Listen now to hear the full interview:
Host: Welcome to our listeners. This is a new podcast called “A Day in the Life,” brought to you by the International Myeloma Foundation, also known as the IMF. We hope that this Day in the Life podcast will provide inspiration and messages of resilience for patients and caregivers from all walks of life. We recorded our first interview with Jen Curran on Feb 21, 2020. Jen was the opening speaker at the IMF’s 13th Annual Comedy Celebration in Los Angeles, where she shared her story of being diagnosed and now living with myeloma.
Jen Curran is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, with her husband, one-year-old daughter, and too many pets. Listen now to hear the full interview:
Host: Alright, well, just going to start talking a little bit about the talk you gave at our Comedy Celebration. I listened to it online. And I know you talked a lot about what the diagnosis process was for you, which was a misdiagnosis at first. Um, but for the people who are listening for the first time, if you could share with us how you were diagnosed with myeloma.
Jen Curran: So, I had a baby, actually, a year ago. Almost exactly. Her birthday was yesterday. So, she turned a year. And I had her after trying to get pregnant for quite a while. So we were so excited, and the pregnancy was going along great, but then there ended up being some…I had high blood pressure. I had protein in my urine, which they call preeclampsia when that happens during pregnancy.
And there always checking that stuff because of the potential for you to get preeclampsia. They were testing me all the time and the stuff started coming up positive and so they started getting really concerned because the levels of the blood pressure, and the protein in my urine were just not matching up, and it seemed that something else was out-of-whack. So even though they called it preeclampsia, I had a high-risk OB, who basically said, “You know, I’m really concerned about what we’re seeing here, and you need to go get tested as soon as the baby is born.”
So, they took it really seriously and they put me on bedrest. For the end of this pregnancy, I was on bedrest for 3 months, which was awful. And I guess, I shouldn’t say it was awful. It wasn’t so bad. I got to lay around and watch TV and do puzzles. It could have been worse.
But after the baby was born. And she was born without problem. They induced her a little bit early, because they were really concerned about all these levels they were seeing. Um, I went, then probably about two months after she was born, to a kidney doctor, to get the protein in my urine that was not going away. And when you have preeclampsia it is supposed to be basically be cured as soon as you deliver the baby. Mine was not. I went to a kidney doctor. But I didn’t go to someone that I got referred to. I just basically looked someone up in my insurance because I thought it was going to be in and out. No big deal. That she would tell me the protein was dissipating, and everything was fine.
So, I went to this kidney doctor. My baby was two months old. I lugged her with me. Uh, they tested my urine again, and when the results came back, uh, it was not at all what I had expected. Which I thought the protein was going down, and she said, “It’s even higher than it was when you were pregnant.” I was very concerned about that, talking to her about what do you think it is…and this and that.
And she definitely looked, um…She looked confused, like she didn’t know what was going on, which was very concerning for me. Because your doctor to seem like they are at least have seen a case like this before. But she seemed really perplexed, and after she thought about it for a while, she basically turned to me and said, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong. I think you just need to lose weight. So go home and start dieting and exercising. Take the baby on walks. You know, she kind of gave me this whole speech about eat less sodium, don’t eat stuff from a box, and it was a very jarring conversation. Because I truly thought that there was something else going on and it felt really like, “Oh, that’s all that is. I don’t know that doesn’t sound right to me. She told me she didn’t want to see back for four months.
And so I went home and started thinking about this idea of diet and exercise. I was not mentally in place where I wanted to start dieting. You know, I had started to really think that dieting wasn’t so healthy. And all of it was really coming into conflict with itself. And so I finally decided to go get a second opinion, probably like two weeks later. Just because I felt something is up. I don’t like this. We wanted to start trying to have another baby pretty soon, and I needed to get this protein taken care of, if I was going get pregnant again.
So long story short, I went to this other doctor, and she instantly said, “Omigosh, this is very worrisome, and there is nothing that diet or exercise or losing weight could do to help these lab results I’m seeing. We need to give you a kidney biopsy right away. So that was really relieving to me because I felt like someone was finally taking this situation seriously. It was sort of a long experience…you know I think a lot of people go through this when you get diagnosed with cancer. You certainly don’t find out the day after they run the test.
Jen Curran: She ran the tests, and everything at first comes back – I had to go overnight at the hospital, and at first everything comes back fine. Your healthy, the kidneys are great, there’s no problem. We’re going to do some additional testing to figure out what’s going on, but we’ll let you know. And then of course, this additional testing, with whatever looks closer with whatever microscope they had to use, showed that I had something called kappa light chains in my blood. And that’s basically a type of multiple myeloma, when you have too many light chains, which is just part of – so not everyone has light chain myeloma, which I did, and she was a kidney doctor, not an oncologist, so she was telling me, I think this might be cancer or some other disorder. It’s very serious, and I’m going to refer you to an oncologist. So I get referred to the oncologist.
Those are big words obviously. Oncologist. Cancer. You could have to have a lifetime of treatment, which is what I knew going in there. Then that doctor had to do a bunch of tests and do a bone marrow biopsy. And at first, he thought it was something else. And back and forth and this and that. And finally, I would say probably two or three months after I went in for the initial test, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. It took quite a while for them to figure that out, but then they did get to the bottom of it. So I started treatment in August of this past year, of 2019.
Host: And what, if you’re open about it, what type of treatment are you undergoing?
Jen Curran: Yeah, so the treatment, I actually ended up leaving that first oncologist. I was not a huge fan of his. We just had.. they were just a few things that kept coming up that were red flags to me. And one of them was that I wanted to have some eggs retrieved. I’m young. I was only 38 at the time I was being diagnosed. And I wanted to see if I could do some preserving of my fertility, and he kind of like told me some untruths about it. And caused some problems for me in trying to do that.
And it turned out there’s actually a charity that – an organization – that helps cancer patients of reproductive age, preserve their fertility. So I got a lot of it paid for by this organization. Excuse me, organization called LiveStrong that was able to do that for me, and so there’s a ton of support out there, just a sidebar for anyone who is still of reproductive age and wants to do some fertility preservation before they start treatment. There’s a ton of financial support available, and so, once I figured that out, and decided that this wasn’t the right doctor for me. I started with a different doctor who is fantastic, and I like him a lot. His name is Dr. Berenson, and the treatment he put me on – they call it Dbd, so it’s a drug called Doxo—I think the whole name of it is Doxorubicin, Velcade, and dex.
And I think Velcade and dexamethasone, which is a steroid. So that’s the treatment I’ve been on since August. And I finished my seventh cycle of it a couple weeks ago, and I’ll be going in, in a just a few days to find out if I have to do an eighth cycle or if they are going to put me on maintenance, or what the deal is…Because all my numbers have been going down, which is excellent, and he says I’m in partial remission at least.
Host: So uh…listening to you a couple of questions come up. I’m going to start with this one—because we first talked about a little bit about your diagnosis. You were a great advocate for yourself as a patient, and you seem to be still. What kind of advice would you give to other myeloma patients who might feel they are not being understood by healthcare professionals who are advising them? How can advocate for themselves better?
Jen Curran: Yeah, well it’s so important with any illness, condition, medical, anything that you have, to be double- and triple-checking your doctors, even if it’s just a common cold. And I would not have said that, before having this experience. But being diagnosed with cancer and going through the medical industry as it exists right now to find that out, has been very humbling for me. Because it made me realize that a lot of these doctors, especially when you get into the more complicated, serious diseases, just don’t really know a ton about what’s exactly going on.
And I think we all like to believe that, you know, doctors, they know what they are doing. They memorized the test book. They been in school for however long. So, I think once you get into – you know for lack of better way to say it – the upper echelon of some of what they can treat you for in life, you know, serious, deadly cancers, some of them they don’t know a ton about.
So that was really surprising for me as a young woman in the world, trying to get this all figured out. And especially coming out of having a baby, where again there’s a lot that they don’t know about. They don’t know a lot about preeclampsia, as it relates to pregnancy. The whole experience made me be just another set of eyes on my own lab results. And be another brain behind what exactly might be going on.
So, what I would tell other myeloma patients and have told other people who I have encountered who are being diagnosed after I was is if you can find that. Find an expert in exactly what you have. So…I thought the first oncologist I saw, he was actually a hematologist/oncologist, and I thought because he had that extra word in his title, that that was somehow enough for multiple myeloma. But it really wasn’t. He’s an expert in hematology, in blood cancer, but he’s not necessarily an expert in multiple myeloma. And I would never have known that, it didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t know there were experts in particular types of cancer. So, it wasn’t until I found my doctor who is someone who just deals with multiple myeloma essentially. But I started to feel like I was with someone who knew exactly what was going on.
Because the first doctor I saw, although he has dealt with blood cancer, he, in his energy, seemed a lot more concerned about what he was seeing, than he actually needed to be. So, when I got with the doctor, I’m with now, he was like, “This is not a five-alarm fire. I think you’re going to do just fine.” And that’s sort of all played out exactly as he said. You know, it was very scary to be in this office with this first doctor I had, the first oncologist I had, who seemed like he was worried, like he thought that maybe I was not going to survive this. So that would be my advice beyond find an expert, but also find someone who you feel really, really comfortable with. And whose energy and attitude about what you are doing, aligns with yours.
You know, I’m just someone who believes, that you have to also have to fight this thing mentally, meaning you have a good attitude about it. You have to believe you are strong enough to beat it. You have to believe that your life is going to continue after this. And I think you need that energy in a doctor too. That’s really the most important thing to me, is really, selecting someone you trust.
And in the beginning, I wasn’t really so sure because I was so shaken by the idea that I had cancer. So, I was just going to hook-up with this other guy, and he wanted to start treatment immediately. And I was like, great let’s do it. Where do I sign? He was like, “Okay, come in Monday morning.” But my husband was actually the person who pumped the brakes because you know, this a big deal, this getting chemotherapy, and having all this medicine start to course through your body. So, let’s make sure we’re really comfortable with somebody. So luckily, I was able to get in with somebody that we really liked, before I started treatment with the other person.
So, I think it’s also very scary to get a diagnosis like this, not everyone knows what multiple myeloma even is. It’s not necessarily a word, a pair of words that you hear a lot in the world. Uh, bone marrow cancer or immune system cancer, you know, I’ve heard it referred to as all of those things. That’s not something you hear a lot. You know, we hear a lot about breast cancer, but you just don’t hear a lot about this. So, I know it can be so, so terrifying. There’s a sense from maybe 20-30 years ago, that this is a death sentence. So, I think people that are diagnosed with multiple myeloma should be aware that the treatments, research, and what they are able to do to get this into remission, although there is no cure for It, has just come so incredibly far in the last decade. And there’s really a lot of hope for this just being a chronic illness that you have to treat for most of your life. So maybe then finding a cure, in the next chunk of time. And that would be excellent. For me at least.
That’s my advice not think that these doctors are, you know, God himself. I think that’s really important.
Host: And also, it sounds like, you obviously have a lot on your plate, you’re going through chemo, you’re a new mom, you’re married, and I also understand that you are the Co-Director and Founder of the Ruby Theater here in LA. Just how do you balance it all? How has myeloma affected how you balance your life with all these different hats you’re wearing?
Jen Curran: Yeah, well, a thing I was it sounds crazy to say that I was lucky to get cancer when I had a new baby. I was already in this upheaval of life. I was already in a stage of life that I hadn’t experienced before. This was my first kid. I had no idea what to expect. I was already not sleeping enough, and trying to figure out what the days were going to look like.
So, for this happen in the middle of all that – although of course, I would have never wanted that to be the case – it made it a little simpler for me because I knew I just had to make a couple more adjustments to this new normal. Because my daughter and I had not really settled into any kind of serious routine – when I was diagnosed – she was only a few months old. So it’s been super challenging, of course.
But I’ve had so much unbelievable support from my friends and family. And it’s been unbelievable and incredible to see the community around me, who I would not have said, you know the day before, I got this information, you know, I would not have said, everyone around me will rally around me. You know, I’m not the type of person who posts a photo with ten other people on my Instagram and says “This is my squad.” I’m not that person. I was really overjoyed and so relieved and grateful that the people I do love, and who are around me, although I would not have said hashtag squad or best girl group, or whatever it is about the people in my life. They really have been unbelievable in supporting us. Helping us raise money so we could have a little bit of a cushion for all these medical bills, and also help us. They’re helping us with childcare and donating their time. And you know, bringing us food. You know, so many amazing things. So that’s really how I’ve how I’ve been able to balance it is a ton of help from people.
And my mom lives in Illinois, but she comes every month since my baby was born, through this whole first year, to help us out. And to make sure she gets some eyes on her granddaughter and that I’m doing okay, and that I have a little bit of support for a few days. So that’s really how I’ve been able to balance it all. But I think the other thing besides really allowing myself to rely on my community and being able to ask for help when I need it. I’ve been having kind of a ‘can-do’ attitude about it.
And again, I’m not somebody who would have said that about myself before this. You know, “I’m going to have a positive attitude and fight this thing head on,” just wasn’t my personality, but that is how I truly feel about it and that’s how I’ve been to get through this. You know, it’s not ideal to be driving to chemo with a baby in the backseat. But can I do it? Yeah. You know, it’s not ideal to have to try to find daycare and to be on steroids, and worry about whether or not I’m going to live another decade. It’s not ideal to do all that. But I can do it. And I’m up for it.
And that’s actually something that a good friend of mine told me when I was going through the process of getting diagnosed. She’d had a baby too. And I was going through the process of hemming and hawing and worrying and she said to me, “You know, this totally sucks, but you’re up for it.”
And I thought that was such a kind and earnest thing to say. Because I do feel that as much I would not have asked for this to happen, I do feel that I’m up for it. I can handle it. Let’s do it. What’s next? Was my feeling. So, I have let some of the, I was in the world of comedy and entertainment and working on TV and all that kind of stuff before I had my baby. So I have let some of that to the wayside. I haven’t been participating in that stuff as much as I would have in the past.
And I do think you have to be really … what’s the word … really decisive about what you can put your energy toward, and what you have to say to no to. And that’s true for all of us and for motherhood. But more true than ever for me with having to deal with cancer also. I just have to say no, and not worry about it when it’s something I don’t think I can take on. And be aware that all I have to do right now is raise my baby and heal from this, and hopefully fight this cancer, and heal from this experience. When I can get that at the forefront of my mind, it makes it a lot easier.
Host: That’s great. I wanted to share a couple of quotes with you from some of our other patients. One of them is from Yelak Biru, he’s one of our Board Members here at the International Myeloma Foundation, and he’s been living with myeloma for over 25 years. He was diagnosed when he was just 25.
Jen Curran: Wow!
Host: And…one of things he said, is “We are not our disease.” And another myeloma patient, her name is Valarie Traynham, said, “Myeloma is something I have. It doesn’t have me.”
So I just wanted to share those quotes with you and see if they resonate with you, that idea you are not your disease. It is something you have, and it doesn’t have you. How do you approach myeloma in your life, and living with it, and living with who you are, as Jen?
Jen Curran: Yeah, well I think that one of the small blessings about myeloma is that it doesn’t seem. The treatment doesn’t seem to be so damaging to your life the way aggressive breast cancer treatment or lung cancer would be. So I feel really grateful that I get to walk around and not so much forget I have cancer, but I can let it fall to the back of mind. It definitely resonates with me to hear people having said, that they have myeloma. It doesn’t have them. It’s such a beautiful concept.
Because I think it’s so important after you get through…you know, it takes your whole life to find out that you have cancer, and then to move through those early days, figuring out the exact diagnosis. And then the early days, of what’s the treatment going to look like. And there’s so much waiting. You are almost in a purgatory. How’s the treatment going to fee?. Now I’m in treatment, how is my body going to respond to it? There’s so much that has it take over your whole life. As I move through this process of hopefully, the active treatment stage being behind me, I do think a lot about what it’s going to look like…five, ten years from now when my daily experience is not necessarily clouded by the idea that I have multiple myeloma. And I love thinking about the notion that it won’t be my whole life. And that it doesn’t define exactly who I am. Because right now, it does feel a little to me like it’s a big definer of who I am…It’s mostly because I have to think about it so much and go to treatment so often. And it’s only been you know since I was diagnosed. It’s very inspiring to me that people mentally get to move to that place. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I look forward to that.
Host: That’s great. And I’m just going to close with this question, and it’s a theme we have this month. It’s Myeloma Action Month. Uh, you’ve kind of already touched on this with your personality and your attitude. Our theme for this month is the idea of resilience. And the capacity to adapt to new challenges and the capacity to adapt to change. As a myeloma patient and as a person, what does the essence of resilience mean to you?
Jen Curran: The essence of resiliency to me is choosing to move forward. A lot of what my experience was in first finding out that I had protein that was in my urine to all the way to getting diagnosed, which was a very long process for me. All of that required a daily act of resiliency. And almost a choice to get up again, and look this thing in the face gain, without allowing it to take me over mentally. I absolutely had a few days of real sadness and a pity party when I first started hearing words like cancer from these doctors. Because you know, I had a new baby so it sent me, for sure, into a tailspin.
But after I let myself feel all those feelings. I got to the point of knowing that the only way to move through this was to get up every day and keep moving through it. And so, I look around and have a sense of gratitude for all that I do have, which is incredible. Uh, there’s so much around me to be grateful for. Not just my family, but you know, the medical community as a whole and how much they’ve been able to achieve. So, I’m walking into the front door, with so much information and a real sense that I might be able to go into remission with this.
The idea of being resilient has been so, so important to me…especially being a young woman and a young mother...has been so essential to me to grab onto and hold on to that on a day-to-day-to-day basis. So, I love that you guys are focusing on that because that I think that is so important in being a cancer patient and going through cancer treatment, is choosing to have that sense of “can-do” attitude.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be happy all the time, that’s not what resiliency is, but it’s a choice to lighten up your day. And to let the battles of the day before kind of role off your back. And I think that’s something that a lot of people who have battled any type of cancer can relate to. Every day can seem like a battle or that there’s something terrible that happened yesterday: some battle with the insurance company or some stressful issue or medicine that didn’t work or procedure that was more painful than you expected.
It very quickly becomes things, the most important exciting thing that happened to you in a whole year is just part of another week when you are dealing with something like multiple myeloma. Or any type of cancer, honestly. I think that for all the things that you can tell cancer patients, they should focus on being positive. And taking care of their diet and getting some exercise and having loved ones. I do think that the idea of being brave and courageous and allowing yourself to be someone who is adaptable and resilient. Because we all have, that store within us of a level of courage. You just might not know it. It just might not be that something has asked you to do that yet. And that was the case for me.
Not having lived seven decades of life when this information came into my world. It’s a new idea for me to you know, get up every day and move through something so challenging. So, it really quickly grew me up as a person and made start to look at life in a different way and I’m very grateful for that.
Host: I think everything you said is very admirable, and it’s going to inspire so many of our patients. I want to thank you so much for your time, and is there anything that we didn’t touch upon in the few questions that we had, or that you would like to share with anybody? Just about your experience or anything that you feel would inspire others?
Jen Curran: I know that a lot of people who have multiple myeloma are older. But I would definitely say that – you know, it was shocking to me to get this diagnosis as a young person. And it’s made me more aware of how many people really do get a cancer diagnosis before the age of 40. So I would just say as much as multiple myeloma is something that tends to affect people who are older: Be on top of your physical, regardless of your age, and especially if you are young and you think that you’re someone who doesn’t need to do that. Get yourself checked out. It’s not just breast cancer for women. There’s so much out there that can happen to us.
But that doesn’t mean you need to be a hypochondriac or be afraid, but don’t skip your exams. And if lab result looks weird, ask a second question and a third question and ask for a follow-up test. Don’t assume just because you are not 65 years old that you can’t have something serious happen to your body. So that would be just ... a little thing that I would want to say to people who are my age is, “Don’t think that you are immune to this stuff. And make sure you get yourself checked out.”
Host: This has been “A Day in the Life” with Jen Curran, brought to you by the International Myeloma Foundation. For information on multiple myeloma and other patient stories, visit myeloma.org.