Not Worth It

How indoor tanning changed my life
Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 8:36am
Skin Cancer Survivor

I visited my first tanning salon at age 16. In high school I was a cheerleader, and I felt that being tan for games made me look skinnier in my uniform. My friend’s mom owned a tanning salon and always gave us a discount to tan. I even got a job working at a tanning salon for a couple of years. Surrounded by options for free tanning, I started going on a regular basis—at least three times a week. It was always in the back of my mind that tanning was potentially hazardous to my skin, but like most people, I never thought it would happen to me. I never thought that I would get skin cancer, and if I did, it would only happen when I was much older. Little did I know that I would soon have a very different perspective.

When I was 27, I found a spot on my chest that looked like a little pimple. After a few months it turned into a dry pink patch of skin the size of a pencil eraser. While still not thinking too much of it, I thought it best to go to the dermatologist and get it checked out. When the biopsy came back as basal cell carcinoma, I was completely shocked. It felt like the wind got knocked out of me. I couldn’t believe that at that age, as young as I was, I had skin cancer. A few months after my surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the little scar on my chest turned hypertrophic. I ended up having to get steroid injections to reduce the swelling and laser treatments to lighten the color. My doctor gave me the option of having a laser remove the scar, but I decided against it. I wanted to show it to friends and family as a reminder of the potential consequences of excessive tanning, and that cancer can happen to anyone.

Ever since my bout with skin cancer, I’m constantly living in fear. My diagnosis has changed the way that I spend my time outdoors. Living in California, the proximity to beaches and abundance of outdoor activities sometimes makes things difficult, but I take a very different approach now. I have to make sure to wear a hat, dark clothes, and apply sunscreen every few hours when I spend time outside. I find myself constantly checking my skin and dreading that every mole I find is skin cancer. For the past four years, I’ve been going in for semi-annual check-ups. I’ve had numerous pre-cancerous lesions, called actinic keratosis, removed from my body in that time. This is something that I am going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.

Having a tan is not worth the risk of skin cancer. There are so many spray tans and sunless lotions available now that provide the same result but are much less harmful to your body. There really is no need to risk over-exposing your skin to harmful UV rays. I feel so strongly about this that I’ve started my own mobile spray tanning business because I wanted to give people a healthier alternative to UV tanning. I love what I do because I can share my story with my clients. If I can help steer at least one person permanently away from tanning and onto a healthier alternative, then it will all have been worth it.

Please don’t tan; the consequences far exceed any perceived benefits. There are so many cancers out there that are out of our control, but with skin cancer, there are measures we can take to dramatically reduce our chances of getting it. Many teens and young adults think that skin cancer won’t happen to them, but I’m a prime example that it can happen to anyone. The next time you head out the door to go tanning, think about the people in your life who love and care for you. Imagine how it would affect them if you were diagnosed with skin cancer.

I can’t undo the years I spent in the tanning bed but I can educate young people that skin cancer is real, and early detection is important. I want to try to help others make better decisions than I have.

Love your skin and stay healthy!