When Jen Curran was pregnant with her daughter, Rose, she said her doctors noticed a spike in her blood pressure and increased protein in her urine.
These are often the signs of preeclampsia, a condition that can lead to illness or death in mothers and babies. Her doctors were concerned, she said, and placed her on bedrest while they continued to observe.
One doctor, a high-risk maternal and fetal medicine doctor, strongly urged Curran to visit a kidney specialist after she delivered.
“She was really insistent about it," Curran, 38, of Los Angeles, told TODAY. "Thank God she was. She made me follow-up.”
She delivered three weeks early — a healthy baby girl she and her husband named Rose — and her blood pressure returned to normal.
But, the protein in Curran's urine did not go away. Her doctor called after Rose’s birth to remind her to visit a kidney doctor.
“In retrospect, I think she had an inkling that something was going wrong,” she said.
Curran visited a kidney specialist in her neighborhood who took her insurance. By the time of her appointment, she expected to hear the protein was going down. Instead, she said they found the levels were even higher than when she was pregnant. But how the doctor wanted to treat it shocked her.
“She was staring down these lab results," Curran, a comedian and a co-founder of the Ruby LA comedy theater, continued. "She said, ‘It can take a long time for your body to return to normal. Can you start dieting and exercising?’”
“She was almost just threatening about this: ‘If you can’t get rid of this protein by losing weight, then I am going to have to biopsy your kidney,'” she said.
Curran said it had been years since a doctor told her to lose weight. When she was in her early 20s, she said shed about 100 pounds. But her weight has fluctuated through her life. At first, she tried to eat differently to lose a few pounds, but the doctor didn’t give her clear advice about what to do and it felt wrong.
“It was such an easy answer, it didn’t seem right to me,” she said. “It was days and days of me looking at the fridge and getting more angry about the fact that she was so flippant about it and made me feel like it was my job to fix it.”
So Curran asked her high-risk obstetrician to recommend a different kidney doctor. A month after the first opinion, she said, she met with the new doctor who took blood work, asked for a 24-hour urine collection and scheduled a kidney biopsy.
“She could tell I was nervous and worried. I was like, ‘What about diet and exercise?’ and she was like ‘There is nothing you could do with food or exercise that could even touch this protein,’” Curran said. “I felt so so so much better.”
When the results arrived, the doctor called her and recommended she see a hematologist-oncologist, who initially thought she had a kidney disease. Ultimately, Curran was diagnosed with light chain multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.
Because she and her husband planned on having another child, Curran asked if she could have her eggs retrieved. That doctor didn’t want to delay treatment and said the medications interfered with chemotherapy.
Determined, Curran immediately called her fertility doctor who said she could help. Curran said she found out later that the hematologist-oncologist had exaggerated the risk of egg retrieval before chemotherapy. Again, she felt stunned.
“It just kind of keeps happening. The thing is — it is not a matter that this doctor is a dud. This doctor is great. It is a matter of what works for you,” she said. “You have to decide what is a deal-breaker.”
Curran shared her story in a Twitter thread and said she's received loads of supportive comments. She hopes her story encourages other women to advocate for their health when they feel dismissed or something doesn’t feel right. While she might have been more timid about doing that earlier in her life, she no longer wants to be dismissed.
“I had no problems asking the extra questions, having them run the tests again," Curran said. "I don’t care what you think of me.”
Curran had her eggs retrieved and started induction chemotherapy this week. So far she feels pretty good and said doctors told her she has “decades and decades of survival.”
Parenting a 5-month-old has also helped her cope with having cancer.
“I certainly wish this was not happening,” she said. “(But) I feel really lucky and grateful that this baby is here. She is so much work and she brings me so much joy.”