It only took twenty minutes and one word to change the carefree life I have known for the past twenty years. What initially was a routine yearly physical at my doctor’s office had turned into not only a nightmare but a life altering wakeup call. Before I walked through the doors of my doctor’s office, I was like any other college student. I was a carefree, healthy, and happy nineteen year old home for my winter break with my whole life ahead of me. And in the blink of an eye, like thousands of women my age across the country I became a statistic.
Despite my predominantly Irish genes, I was born into generations of flawless skin. I defied the fair skin odds my brother and sister had been dealt, and inherited my father’s dark olive skin tone. It is the type of skin that the sun adores. It bronzes quickly and rarely burns, allowing me to lay out unscathed for hours in even the most grueling heat of summer. I thought this made me invincible, but if anything this made me even more vulnerable. The only people I thought that developed skin cancer were old and fair skinned. I thought I was lucky for having such dark skin, and the fact that it rarely burns led me to believe I was safe from all the hazards of over exposure to the sun. I even thought I was protected from the dangers that lingered in tanning booths, and justified my occasional visits to the bright bulb beds. What I did not know then is that no tan is a safe tan.
For as long as I can remember as soon as the last of the winter snow has finally melted and the spring showers have passed, I only have one goal for the summer, to get the perfect tan. The only sun-block I ever even thought about using on a beautiful day was my Banana Boat SPF 4 tanning oil. My mother, a nurse, begged me to be careful warning me of the potential repercussions, but I refused to listen to her. Those potential repercussions she always warned me of, are the same ones that now haunt me. If only I had listened.
A tiny red flag flashed in my head as I examined my back in the mirror. It was the summer before my freshman year of college. With so many end of the year events to attend I had made sure that I was on top of my tan. Being tan made me feel more beautiful. It cleared my skin up, and I felt more confident when I looked bronze. The cold winter had made me pasty and the last thing I was going do was allow myself to be the pale girl, especially since this was senior year. So I had picked up a habit of casually tanning a few times a week before prom and graduation, just to make sure I had a glow. These occasional trips put my health in serious danger. The moles that stared back at me were all different shapes and colors. I have always been proud of the fact that I do not freckle easily. I have always only had three distinct birthmarks on my body, never freckles. The site of these new found moles was definitely weird, but I pushed my concerns to the back of my mind. I convinced myself I was being over dramatic and was reassured by the fact that at nineteen years old I was healthy and at my physical peak. Why should I worry over some dumb little moles right? Wrong.
Sitting on top of the cold metal table, my lower back exposed, in a room with zoo animal wall paper I realized just how young I really was. I choked back the rising lump in my throat as the doctor’s hands picked and pried at those silly moles I had “forgotten” about from two years ago. It seemed like hours before she started asking me questions about the moles, the amount of time I log in the sun, and if I’ve ever been tanning. I noticed them a two summers ago, A lot, and yes occasionally. In no way did I foresee what would happen next. Before I knew it I was being ambushed by foreign medical terms, and the only one I recognized literally made my mouth drop and my heart flutter, Melanoma. I found out that my moles were a direct result of my occasional trips to the tanning booth and the vicious over exposure to the sun I subjected myself to every summer. Melanoma, which I thought could never affect me, was now potentially I battle I would be facing in my future. Twenty minutes earlier I had been deciding between which coffee store I was going to hit after this appointment, now I was deciding which surgeon to use all because of my own reckless decisions to be tan.
First of all, I can honestly say that I am not a frequent flyer at the tanning salons. I would much rather be lying in the sun, then under those bright bulbs. The only times I ever really tanned were before big events, prom, graduation, and cocktail. Believe it or not I went tanning more in high school then I ever have in college. What I learned is that even if you are not an avid tanner, you are still putting yourself at risk every time you lay in that booth. What shocked me is that the demographic group that has been most affected by Melanoma is women ages 15-29, whom it now is the second most common cancer to be diagnosed with. It is completely preventable if caught in the early stages, yet it is also the most dangerous because of how rapidly it can spread. Whether you are young, old, female, male, fair skinned or light skinned, it does not discriminate in who it decides to attack. Research has proven that if you are between the ages of 15-29 and you go tanning more than once a month, you are increasing your chances of developing skin cancer by 75 percent. 75 percent is a pretty big amount huh? In just 2009 alone, 63,000 people across the nation were diagnosed with this disease. 8,650 of those people died. This means that 73 % of skin cancer deaths are from Melanoma, and that every fifty minutes one person in America dies from this disease. The statistics for 2010-2011 are projected to further exceed these frightening numbers. Even though tanning salons may claim that tanning is safe because the radiation is controlled everyone needs to know that no tan is safe. It has been proven that tanning beds put out 3-6 more times the amount of radiation than the sun. In what way I ask is that controlled. It has also been determined that having five or more sunburns doubles your risk of developing skin cancer, especially Melanoma. How many of us are bright pink after our first trip to the booth in the dead of winter. That one little burn you just got from the tanning booth just increased your risk of skin cancer. These statistics do not lie, think about it.
With the school year coming to an end, and summer on the horizon I ask you all to think twice before you work on that tan. I never thought that something so scary could happen to me, but the reality is that it is becoming more common than you think, especially amongst our age group. It takes a total of two minutes to protect yourself from the outside sun, and it takes a good decision to not go to the tanning salon. We all deserve to live healthy and long lives, let’s not put all of that in jeopardy just for the sake of a stupid tan.