I look like have shrapnel wounds all over my body. And no, I haven’t served a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was an avid tanner for many years. And I’m only 30.
Growing up in the sunny South, I have always loved tanning outdoors—laying out at the pool, beach, or even my backyard and slathering myself with oil with little or no SPF. I was quite young when I visited a tanning salon for the first time—only 15, actually, because I remember my friend’s mom had to drive us there and sign for us. Looking back at my first visit, I remember being scared of the bed—it too closely resembled a coffin and it made me claustrophobic.
That didn’t last long.
By the time I was 16, I was working at one of the salons—tanning for free and soaking up all the rays I wanted, sometimes on a daily basis. The day of my high school prom I thought nothing of lying there nearly twice the recommended time. Like everyone else who tans, I naturally enjoyed the glow that made me look as if I’d just returned from a Hawaiian vacation. I thought I looked better tan than “pale,” and I thought it made me look thinner, etc. It was almost like a makeup shield; I felt as if I needed to be tan to be at all attractive.
Despite my parents’ pleas not to, I tanned anyway. Nobody could tell me what to do, and there was technically nothing they could do, because at that time you didn’t have to have a parent sign for you if you were over 16 years of age. My dad used to leave skin cancer information on my bed for me to find when I got home from tanning, and I distinctly remember warnings from my mom: “I know you don’t care now, but one day you will. You’ll regret it.”
I never worried about skin cancer, though, because I figured that if you had it, they just pluck it off, right? Wrong. Melanoma spreads scarily fast—often so that it hits lymph nodes—and when it does, it’s full-blown cancer that has spread throughout your entire body.
The Internet is rife with stories of young people in their twenties and thirties and their experiences with skin cancer. Glenna Kohl’s story was one that hit me hard (she lost her battle with skin cancer at the age of 26), and I feel called to share my mistakes and my regret.
If you use a tanning bed, please stop. If you’re outdoors, use sun protection. Visit a dermatologist regularly. If you have kids who tan, don’t let them. If you’re a teen like I was and don’t care or don’t think it will harm you: Trust me. You will end up caring. And it can kill you. It’s tortuous to await a doctor’s phone call (in your twenties and early thirties) to see if you have cancer for something you could have prevented—I know. I’m actually incredibly grateful for the numerous ugly scars on my body, because each one of those scars represents a worrisome/cancer-like mole that was benign.
Our bodies—our lives—are a gift from God. Treasure it. Protect it. It’s never too late to start!
Featured Photo: Vojtech Vlk/PhotoXpress