New mom says bone marrow cancer went undiagnosed as a result of doctor's 'fatphobia'

Jen Curran, with her 5-month-old daughter, Rose, was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer after one doctor told her to "lose weight" to remedy any ongoing health issues. (Photo courtesy of Jen Curran)
Jen Curran, with her 5-month-old daughter, Rose, was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer after one doctor told her to "lose weight" to remedy any ongoing health issues. (Photo courtesy of Jen Curran)

A new mom is catching the attention of women everywhere with a message about advocating for yourself and your health, after being told to “lose weight” from her pregnancy to remedy symptoms that ended up being diagnosed as bone marrow cancer.

Los Angeles-based comedian, writer and co-founder of a feminist comedy theater, Jen Curran, took to her Twitter page on Monday to share the “crazy story” in a 41-tweet thread. In it, she explained that she had high protein in her urine during her pregnancy, which was diagnosed by her ob-gyn as preeclampsia. But as the levels of protein continued to increase after the birth of her healthy daughter in February, the ob-gyn recommended that Curran see a kidney doctor.

“I didn’t ask for a recommendation,” she admitted in her tweets. “Since I had a new baby to lug with me, I assumed it would be easiest to go to a doctor covered by my insurance, near my house. Whoops.”

The convenient choice ended up being a doctor who looked at her lab results and concluded that they weren’t of concern. When Curran pushed for an explanation of why her protein levels were the only indication that her body might not have recovered from birth just yet, when it had in all other ways, the doctor suggested that she “try to lose some weight.”

The 38-year-old said she wasn’t content with the doctor’s suggestion, in part because she had researched “how toxic diet and weight-loss culture can be.”

“I knew in my gut something else was wrong,” she wrote. “Finally I decided to get a second opinion.” Curran asked her ob-gyn for a recommendation for a kidney specialist this time around, before visiting a second doctor who ran some tests and concluded, “This is not good. And there’s nothing diet or exercise can do to touch it,” according to her tweet.

From there, the new mom went on to do a kidney biopsy, which she warned “is not fun.” And after the findings from the test’s detailed results, Curran was ultimately referred to a hematologist-oncologist for a bone marrow biopsy.

Curran explained that the diagnosis of multiple myeloma — cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell, which crowds out healthy blood cells — was “shocking” and “gut-wrenching,” especially with 5-month-old daughter and husband at home.

But because Curran followed her intuition to get a second opinion from another doctor, she’ll be weeks into chemo to treat the cancer before she would have even been back for a follow up with the first kidney doctor. Now, as a result of her own experience, Curran is reminding others to “advocate for yourself” when a doctor’s advice doesn’t feel right.

Curran tells Yahoo Lifestyle that deciding to consult a second doctor was difficult. However, she felt that she had to do it because her medical concerns weren’t resolved. “You shouldn't feel defeated and guilty when you leave the doctor. You should feel empowered and have a plan,” she says. “I couldn’t stop worrying and wondering about it. So I basically just trusted the feeling that I knew my body better than she did.”

Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., acting chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, assures Yahoo Lifestyle that that’s the best approach to medical care across the board.

“It’s always important to remember that things that you think are simple may not be simple, it’s always important not to dismiss a complaint or a finding and it’s always important to make sure that you follow up. And that’s true for both clinicians and the patients, that you follow up and that you do get resolution,” Lichtenfeld explains. “We as patients have an obligation to participate in the process and to understand what’s going on, why it’s going on.”

For Curran, being a knowledgable participant in her diagnostic process is exactly what made her feel confident about her decision to consult a second doctor.

“My second kidney doctor felt like a smart friend from the moment she walked in the room. She talked to me using big words instead of dumbing it down, and listened carefully to me, and I left with a plan,” she says. “As patients, we aren’t doctors or scientists. But we can read people and use our intuition, which doesn’t turn off the moment you walk into a medical facility. Listen to that tiny instinct.”

Sherry A. Ross, MD, a women’s health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health Period tells Yahoo Lifestyle that this sort of advocating is especially important for women. “In today's world, women have to be their best health advocate. If something doesn't feel right with your medical care you must get a second opinion,” Ross says. “It could be a matter of life or death.”

When it comes to Curran’s own life or death situation, she decided to share it with her followers because she felt it was an instance of “fatphobia” that she needed to shed light on.

“It’s ridiculous that this kind of fatphobia is still happening on doctors offices 2019. I have been through far too much with my weight and my health so far to be shy about this or pretend like it isn’t happening,” Curran says. “I also shared it because I want women especially to trust themselves and not give an eff who looks at them sideways. That kind of courage might just save your life.”

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