It was important for Polka Dot Mama to begin the series “My Spots Tell a Story” with an individual who would not only captivate us, but inspire. Jordan Curry seems to do both.
After being diagnosed with Spitzoid Nodular Melanoma at age 25, rather than shying away, she has become an influential advocate for those with skin cancer through sheer openness with her own story. She admits the trials and tribulations that accompany skin cancer, but remains overwhelmingly positive and courageous in her journey.
Can you explain your back story leading up to your melanoma diagnosis. What were your tanning habits like? Did you ever go to tanning beds?
I can remember back to being in that awkward “tween” stage and wanting so badly to be tan. Almost no one feels comfortable in their own skin at that age, but in my mind having a tan would somehow make me feel better about myself. I remember putting on a swimsuit and laying out in the backyard hoping to get some color on my pale skin. Once I was in high school I started using tanning beds. It began when I was fifteen, getting ready for my first high school dance. At the time anyone fourteen and older could use a tanning bed as long as they had consent from a parent. So my mom and I went to the tanning salon and signed up. During high school I really only used tanning beds before dances and other special events. Once I graduated high school I started working at a tanning salon, that was when my “addiction” to tanning really started. I found comfort and relaxation when using tanning beds – and being tan made me feel good in my skin. I felt confident, I finally felt comfortable wearing the short shorts and tank tops.
While working at the tanning salon I was taught how beneficial tanning can be, it helps us absorb vitamin D, and getting a “base tan” helps to protect our skin from sun burns. I used to sell tanning lotion called “tingle lotion” that basically caused you to get a huge rash all over your body…but it helped you to get tan just a little bit faster.
When I moved away for college, one of the reasons I chose the apartment complex I did was because it offered free tanning. While I was away at school my mom started learning about the dangers of tanning. I can remember coming home and my mom making me watch an episode of the show “The Doctors” that she had recorded. On this episode the doctors took a teenage girl obsessed with tanning and attempted to “scare her straight” by showing her all of the awful things that could happen as a result of tanning. My mom begged me to stop tanning, and I did for a while – but then I started back up again. Sure I saw what could happen, but I pushed that down and stuck with the warped theory that it could never happen to me, surely I wouldn’t get cancer – but even if I did, it’s “just skin cancer,” they just cut it out and you move on.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed about all of the false information I myself believed, but that I passed on to other people while working at a tanning salon. I think that is one of the reasons I’m so eager to help educate people on the dangers of tanning and all of the harm that can come from it. Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way, I hope that I can save others that trouble.
How old were you when you were first diagnosed with melanoma?
I was twenty five years old, in the prime of my life. I had just graduated from college, I was employed full time in a career that I loved, I had an amazing boyfriend, my family and friends were all healthy, life was great, I really couldn’t have asked for more. I had no idea that my world was about to get flipped upside down.
I first noticed a small skin colored bump appear on my lower left hip/butt area around May 2015. It was tiny, the only reason I even noticed it was because it was slightly raised and I felt it when I was putting on lotion. I didn’t think anything of it at first, I thought it was just a bug bite, skin tag, or maybe even a wart. When it didn’t go away I got a little bit concerned, I can even remember thinking “what if it could be skin cancer,” I’d even taken a picture of it just in case it did turn out to be something. But then life got in the way, I started my new job, I was busy, I just kind of forgot about it. It wasn’t until a few months later that I looked at it again and it seemed bigger, and I noticed it itching, but I still didn’t worry too much.
It wasn’t until November 2015 – six months since I’d originally noticed it, that I finally started to do some research. One night I started looking up pictures of skin cancer on the internet. I saw several pictures that looked very similar to my bump. I did some more searching and learned about nodular melanomas. I took a picture of my bump and paired it up with a picture of a nodular melanoma I’d found on the internet…the similarity made me very concerned.
The very next morning I was calling all of the dermatologists in my area trying to get an appointment to have this bump biopsied as soon as possible. I was so lucky to get in with a dermatologist within a week. I’d never been to a dermatologist before, I had no idea what to expect. The appointment went well, they asked me questions about the bump, they measured it and photographed it, then they numbed up the area and cut it off. They even let me look at it before they sealed it up to be sent off to the lab. I was immediately relieved to have it off of me. They told me it would be about seven to ten days before they would have the results.
By day ten I still hadn’t heard back from the dermatologist, so I went ahead and called to see what was going on. They told me that the initial results came back abnormal so they had sent it off for more extensive testing. Four days later, on December 22nd, 2015 I got a call from the dermatologist asking if I could come down to the office as soon as possible to go over my pathology results – my heart immediately sank.
My mom and I got in the car and headed to the dermatologist’s office. They sat us down and in a very calm voice said “you have melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.” I just nodded my head and he went on to explain what would need to happen next.
They explained that I had a “Spitzoid nodular melanoma.” It was classified as a Clark Level 4/Breslow depth 2.5mm. What all of that meant was that it was a very dangerous form of melanoma and it was deep enough within my skin that it could be spreading to other areas such as my lungs, bones, and brain – hearing this took my breath away.
They explained that the next step would be to schedule surgery right away. I would have a “wide local excision” where they would remove a large section of tissue all the way around the area of the original bump. They would also do a “sentinel lymph node biopsy” this would tell us if the cancer cells had spread. They explained that I had at least Stage II cancer, possibly Stage III, but they wouldn’t know until my surgery and sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Luckily surgery went great, pathology confirmed that my cancer hadn’t spread, the margins of tissue they removed as well as the lymph node were both clear of any signs of melanoma.
What inspired you to be so open and honest with your journey?
I really want to be able to save other people from having to go through this. If by speaking up and sharing my story means preventing even one person from having to go through this, then I will be over the moon. I didn’t listen to the warnings, and I had to learn the hard way, I really want to prevent other people from having to learn the hard way.
If you could give advice to someone who is a young adult on tanning and sun protection, what would it be?
The number one thing that I want young adults to do is to educate themselves. Don’t be ignorant like I was, do your research, learn about how damaging tanning truly is. Understand and accept that this CAN happen to you, you are not immune. This is not “just skin cancer” they can’t always “just cut it out.” That summer glow can KILL YOU. It can take away the people you love, and it can take you away from the people that love you. It can rob you of the best years of your life. Don’t brush off these warnings, don’t make excuses. There is nothing wrong with being pale, be strong and be confident in who you are. Be a good example for others, be an advocate.
How do you feel your “spots” or scars tell a story? In other words, how does it represent the battle and journey you’ve had with melanoma?
My wounds are still fresh, it was only three weeks ago that I had surgery to remove my melanoma, I still feel the the physical pain this cancer can cause. But the scars that remain will remind me of my battle, I fought this awful cancer. These scars will remind me of how real melanoma is and how diligent I must be at protecting myself and monitoring my skin. These scars will remind me to be brave and to educate others on how to protect themselves.
If you have learned anything in this journey since your diagnosis what would it be?
Since my diagnosis I have learned how truly precious life is. I have learned not to take a single day for granted, because everything can change in an instant. I’ve learned that I am responsible for educating and protecting myself. I’ve learned that I can make a difference just by speaking up.
Fill in the blank with one adjective: “I am _____.”
“I am BRAVE.”