A 27-year old-Alabama woman is trying to warn others about the dangers of tanning, by posting a graphic picture of herself on the internet.
Tawny Willoughby, who says that she was a frequent tanner when she was in high school, and even had a tanning bed in her home, is sharing with the world a photo of what her face looked like after a recent skin cancer treatment. It’s not a pretty sight.
Willoughby says that when she was in nursing school, a classmate was diagnosed with melanoma. At 21, she made her first appointment with a dermatologist, and learned that she, too, had skin cancer. Willoughby has had basal cell carcinoma five times, and squamous cell carcinoma once. She tells CNN that every time she goes to the dermatologist, she has a new cancerous growth cut off her skin.
Willoughby is one of almost half a million Americans who are diagnosed annually with skin cancer that is caused by using tanning beds. The American Academy of Dermatology says that even one indoor tanning session increases a person’s chances of getting squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent.
Melanoma, at one time a rare cancer, is also on the rise.
All three types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, are predominately caused by exposure to UV rays, via tanning beds, or the sun. Willoughby’s cancer experience, at least so far, has been limited to the first two types of cancer. My personal experience with skin cancer involves the third, and most deadly type: melanoma.
I visited my doctor in January 2013, to have a mole removed from my back. When I went back to his office a week later, to have the stitches removed, he came into the exam room and said to me, “I have some bad news for you. That mole I removed was melanoma.”
Unlike Tawny Willoughby, I do not have much of a history with tanning beds. I tried them a few times, when I was in my 20’s, “to get some color.” But the total number of times I used a tanning bed can probably be counted on the fingers of both hands. However, having grown up in a beach resort community, I had plenty of exposure to the sun as a child, and teen. And I didn’t always use sunscreen. Now I’m paying the price.
The oval scar is the result of my most recent melanoma surgery, where my skin was removed, all the way down to the muscle. The darker spots, above the scar, are more melanoma. I have had three surgeries so far, and, after the last one, it was discovered that there was a spot on one of my lungs, which was also believed to be cancer. This past winter, I received treatment with the immunotherapy drug, Yervoy, which produced a partial response, and at least temporarily stopped the growth of the lesion on my lung. I have another scan coming up soon, and the result of that scan will determine what the next steps in my treatment will be. At this point I am hopeful, but I’m not confident that I’ll live to see my almost 2-year-old granddaughter grow to be an adult.
When I was a kid, the dangers of overexposure to the sun weren’t well known. But, now they are, and we know that all types of skin cancer are preventable by using sunscreen, limiting sun exposure, and staying out of tanning beds. Listen to Tawny Willoughby, and listen to me: getting a tan is not worth the potential cost!
Featured image via Facebook