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Diagnosed With Multiple Myeloma at 34 Years Old

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Published on October 7, 2021

Navigating a Multiple Myeloma Diagnosis as a Young Mom

Corinne Torney was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at the age of 34, just after the birth of her second child. Hear Corinne discuss her journey with Andrew Schorr, a cancer survivor and the co-founder of Patient Power. Corinne shares how she and her husband helped their children understand and feel secure, how she views the future, and what she would say to other young cancer patients.

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Transcript | Diagnosed With Multiple Myeloma at 34 Years Old

Andrew Schorr:
Hello, and welcome to Patient Power. I'm Andrew Schorr in San Diego, California. Let's pop over to Tampa, Florida, and my new friend Corinne Torney. Hi Corinne. How are you doing?

Corinne Torney:
Good.

Andrew Schorr:
Well Corinne. You can see Corinne has her head covering there. Corinne is a 35-year-old woman who at age 34, nobody expected it, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma when most people are in their sixties, seventies, eighties. So, Corinne, that must have been the shock of the life for you, your husband, your family.

Corinne Torney:
Yes. It was a huge shock. It really came out of left field. No one expected it because of my age, simply because of my age.

Andrew Schorr:
Right. And not only that is – you'd just given birth to your younger daughter, Hayden, and you were fatigued. So, they said, "Oh well," and you had a C-section. So, they said, "Well, that's why you're tired." Right?

What Symptoms Did You Experience Leading Up to Diagnosis?

Corinne Torney:
Yeah. So pretty much every symptom I was experiencing – the fatigue, tiny bit of back pain, and just like some night sweats – everything I was experiencing could have been attributed to just having a baby. Hormones and all of that.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. But at some point, your primary care doctor says "I want you to see an oncologist" but even then, when you made an appointment, a young woman, you're not at death's door. They said, well, we'll see you in two months, right?

Corinne Torney:
Yeah. So, I guess they didn't consider it urgent because they thought the labs could've just been a fluke thing. So, they weren't trying to rush me anywhere quickly.

Andrew Schorr:
Right. And you'd been healthy your whole life. A schoolteacher, an elementary school teacher, but through a connection your husband had, you were able to get to an oncologist, had a bone marrow biopsy. And even before that, you're on the computer looking up your symptoms. And this thing multiple myeloma pops up. That must have been terrifying, just what you were seeing on the computer screen.

Corinne Torney:
Yes, absolutely. I definitely went to Dr. Google and pretty much everything I researched, I could have checked every single box for multiple myeloma symptoms. So even before the bone marrow biopsy, I already had a very strong feeling that that was it.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So, then you get the results, and it was not good. It was aggressive, right?

Corinne Torney:
It was extremely aggressive. I had a very, very high disease burden at diagnosis.

Andrew Schorr:
So you do your research again and you decide [you’re] wanting aggressive care. You were going to go to a major center known for that, UAMS, or the University of Arkansas. So, you go over there and you end up having one of the things they do there, a tandem stem cell transplant. In October, and then again in December of 2020. That's not easy, right?

What Treatment Did You Receive After Being Diagnosed With Multiple Myeloma?

Corinne Torney:
Oh, no. I really didn't know what to expect. It was not easy, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Andrew Schorr:
Alright. But there's another chapter in your story while you're there, and immunocompromised, you get diagnosed with COVID.

Corinne Torney:
Yes. About six days after my second transplant. And that was really scary because nobody really knew what would happen to me.

Andrew Schorr:
Well, right. But I mean, an immunocompromised patient, you'd been blasted to have the transplant. You're at super high risk. Your husband must have been going crazy. And your parents?

Corinne Torney:
Oh yes. Everybody was very, very nervous about what the outcome was going to be.

Andrew Schorr:
Well, fortunately the outcome has been good. And you have had consolidation therapy since then, maintenance therapy. How are you doing today? And we're months after the COVID and the transplant. How are you doing? I know you're not teaching school now. But you are a mom for little kids.

Corinne Torney:
Yeah. You know, fortunately I have been blessed. I do have a tribe of people supporting me, but now with the maintenance chemo, I definitely have a lot more energy. I do have days where I'm fatigued. And I think the hardest part for me is just instead of being go, go, go all the time, there are days where I have to just rest. So, I've been trying to deal with that. But yeah, I feel like we're back to normal life. It was just really hard going back and forth, leaving the kids for eight months to Arkansas from back and forth, Florida to Arkansas. But now I am feeling a lot better and we're trying to just live normally.

Andrew Schorr:
Well, the new normal.

Corinne Torney:
The new normal.

Andrew Schorr:
Because you're not teaching now.

Corinne Torney:
No, I'm not teaching. I'm on medical leave. So, we'll see what happens next year.

Andrew Schorr:
So, Corinne, let's go through the emotional side of this for a minute. So here you are a young, healthy woman, and you're told you have a cancer often that affects old people. You've got to go through all this "Why me" and I'm sure you hit a low point. Talk about that a little bit and how you got past that.

How Did You Overcome the Mental Struggle of a Cancer Diagnosis?

Corinne Torney:
It was definitely the lowest point I've ever been in my life. I mean, it was just shocking to begin with. And just to wrap my head around it was really difficult. Besides, I just had a baby. You're in this happy phase of your life. And then it was just like a truck hit us. So, it took a solid seven months, at least seven months to just accept it, process it, really try to get out of that head space, because I knew I couldn't continue living in that dark head space. I think a lot of things that helped me were connecting with other myeloma patients, I think was huge just because I'm 34. None of my friends have any kind of cancer. So, it was nice being able to talk to other young patients who have multiple myeloma. And then again, like I said, just a lot of support from my family and my friends really helped bring me out of it. But I guess what I really want to say is time. Nothing is going to make it better in the beginning. It just took time to heal from that.

Andrew Schorr:
And I think the confidence in the care you were getting.

Corinne Torney:
Absolutely. Yes. I felt very confident that my doctors were going to come up with a good treatment plan for me.

Andrew Schorr:
So how do you view the future? I mean, if somebody is 80 with myeloma, they say, "Well, I don't know how long I'm going to live, and I'll get through this and just give me a few more years." You want to have 50 more years.

Corinne Torney:
Yeah. So, I really, through all of this, I've just learned to take it day by day. I try not to fixate too much on the future and what could happen because anything could happen. So, I really try and just live more in the moment, live day by day and take things as they come and accept that I don't have full control over everything.

Andrew Schorr:
So, has this cancer diagnosis changed you? And if so, how?

How Has Being Diagnosed With Myeloma at 34 Years Old Changed Your Day-to-Day Life?

Corinne Torney:
Absolutely. Just like I said, I mean being a teacher, I don't know what it is about teachers, but we like control. We like to have plans. Plan ahead. I like to say I've become more like my husband because he does live more in the moment. So, I've really tried to be more, whatever happens, happens. I can't control the future. I can't plan ahead when I don't know. There's too much uncertainty to try and plan anything. So, I just try and take it day by day and plan as far as I can, without going all the way to the future and the end.

Andrew Schorr:
So, you're a mom and your kids are how old?

Corinne Torney:
The oldest one is six and the other one is about to be two.

Andrew Schorr:
So, what is their understanding or how do you talk to them about – “Mommy has been sick, Mommy's better” – how do you talk about that so that they feel secure?

Corinne Torney:
So, the older one is just wise beyond her years. I was very upfront with her in the beginning. Around diagnosis was really tough because she was four at the time. So, four years old, she knew that something was wrong, but she couldn't really understand. We sat her down and explained that I had cancer, but she still just kind of walked away, like not understanding. After the transplants, when I would come home from Arkansas, she would see that I was weak, fatigued. I was bald. I did include her in shaving my head. So, I actually tried to cling to my hair while I was in Arkansas and I just didn't wash it, didn't touch it. And when I got home, she helped shave it off.

So I explained to her that the medicine does that. I try and bring in just kid-friendly language. You know, "Mommy has cancer, there's bad cells in my body and I need to rest after infusion because the medicine kills the good cells, the bad cells." She really understands a lot. So, I think it's for her, especially. And I think every kid's different. I think she likes to know as close to the truth as possible and kid-friendly language and she's doing better because I'm doing better now. I'm acting like I used to. So, she sees that this is kind of a rollercoaster ride.

Andrew Schorr:
One other key relationship you have of course is with your husband. So how do you work on marriage when you're going through this trauma? How are you doing now?

Corinne Torney:
So, it was hard when I was going back and forth, back and forth because he had to take on Mr. Mom. He had to do work full-time. He had to take care of the kids, packing their lunch, making sure everything was good. So, he definitely did an excellent job. Before I left for Arkansas, I was a little worried, but he did great. And I love him even more for just being my partner through all of this. And he's the right person for this because like I said, he can kind of bring me back down when my anxiety gets the best of me, and my head starts going into that mental space.

Andrew Schorr:
So, Corrine, for someone watching where they or a loved one is younger, diagnosed with cancer, maybe multiple myeloma, which typically is not a young person. What would you say to help them get through it?

Corinne Torney:
I would say take the time you need in the beginning to grieve. I mean what I was experiencing was grief and I almost felt like I would just never, ever be happy again. Like this was it. But that was not the case. Obviously, you will come to terms with it. You don't think you ever could come to terms with it, but you will because you have to, and you will adapt and adjust. And it will be a new normal. And you live as happily as you can with your new normal.

Andrew Schorr:
And I will just point out that there are organizations that connect younger cancer patients. One of them is one we know well called Stupid Cancer, but there are others across the internet. So, look for support. And I would say you have a great cadre of people who help you and you haven't been afraid to ask for help, right?

Corinne Torney:
Oh no.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Well, I think that's so important. So, all the best with your future. Thank you for sharing your story today, Corinne. And really, we wish you the best of help and so glad that you've gotten excellent care that's got you to a much better place. Thanks for being with us.

Corinne Torney:
Thanks for having me.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Andrew Schorr with Corinne in Tampa and knowing that cancer can happen at any age, but there can be a brighter side. If you get your head on straight and get the right care too.

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