Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Advice To Tanning Bed Tanners

I had an interesting opportunity yesterday as I write. Someone who works for a commercial tanning business left a short, but nice comment after a post. I took the opportunity to share with her something I've been noticing and I gave her some advice. After rereading my response, I want to share that with you:

"Absolutely, the sun can be terrible! I can remember three "good" sunburns in my teen years and was told by my melanoma specialist oncologist's PA that one was all it took. But you and I both know that tanning beds are terrible and I've never even seen one up close and personal.
 

Friend, you have no idea how much I appreciate you reading this and responding! I truly do. I greatly appreciate that you say they are "damaging." You are the first person associated with tanning beds, in any way, that I've seen admit to that.

Can I tell you about something I have seen, time and time again? I write and admin Melanoma Prayer Center on Facebook and am part of several melanoma support groups. Something horrifying that I'm seeing far too frequently, is young women (sometimes men) in their teens and twenties getting melanoma and they were tanners (in beds). How often they went really doesn't seem to factor in, hate to tell you that, but it doesn't. Melanoma like they get moves quickly and it's the deadliest cancer I've ever seen. It's scary! They can be diagnosed at stage one or two and be dead within a year.

I have a gut feeling that one day researchers are going to take notice and find there are two strands of melanoma and that the one that develops from tanning beds is infinitely more nasty, aggressive, and harder to combat than the kind that stems from the sun or genetics. I'm seeing it, Friend. I wish I wasn't, but I am.

If you work at a tanning bed company, chances are really good that you're a tanner. PLEASE get a full-body skin check immediately from a dermatologist at a hospital that has melanoma specialists because that way you're more than likely to get a derm that is better trained at dealing with potential melanomas and other skin cancers. I'd tell you to please stop the tanning before it's too late, but it may be already. Hope not, but you'll never know until you're diagnosed.

But please get that full-body and do that twice a year. Please implement a policy, if you haven't already, not to allow teens to tan no matter what their mamas or state law say. Please remember that you said, they're damaging. Deadly is definitely damaging.

And, please, after you've gotten that skin check, let me know how it goes. I'll be praying all is well with you."


That's what I told her and I meant every word. People who work at tanning salons or who sell tanning beds aren't mean, horrible people. Many are just trying to make a living and they're making that living by doing something they believe in and enjoy. They've bought the hype just like the people I meet with melanoma that stems from tanning in beds bought the hype and the lie bit them.

People who get their tan, for whatever reason(s), from tanning beds aren't stupid people just looking and begging for melanoma. I've met many on Facebook and while we've got a melanoma connection, I got mine from the sun and they got theirs from tanning beds, they went tanning for many reasons but to try and get melanoma wasn't one of them!

But we've got that blasted melanoma connection, and honestly, from what I'm seeing over and over and over...the tie that binds looks one way in my hand and nastier in theirs.

A big, huge caveat here: I am not a researcher and I don't play one on TV. There is no scientific community backing up what I'm seeing...right now. I hope that changes. If I'm seeing it, surely other people in the established medical and melanoma research communities are seeing it. AND, our stories are different. What I'm seeing over and over doesn't hold true for everybody! But it's holding true for enough that I believe with all my heart it needs to be out there where people who tan in tanning beds can make wise choices about whether to continue and that they understand they really need to stay super-uber-vigilant about every inch of their bodies. And get it checked at least twice a year by a professional.

So please, whatever your age, if you use tanning beds at all: One, please stop. The damage may already have been done. You may well have melanoma or basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer waiting to jump out and bite you. If it's melanoma, it will bite hard when it bites. Highly possible that it will bite quite hard and aggressively. It will not care if you are a teenager or in your twenties. It will not care if you have babies at home. Look at your life, your hopes and dreams, and your family and tell me that tan is worth being whisked away from all that and all of them.

And please, please, get that full body (and I do mean full body) skin check twice a year by a melanoma specialist dermatologist. Not all dermatologists specialize in melanoma. All have been trained to some degree as part of their education, but not all specialize in it. There's a huge difference! Find a hospital that has melanoma specialist oncologists and surgeons on staff and then make an appointment with their dermatology department. Or, contact the American Academy of Dermatology and get help finding the right dermatologist for you. They aren't all in hospitals.

Melanoma is a mean, vicious, deadly cancer that means deadly business no matter how you get it. There is no cure right now and treatment options are limited. I got my sunburns as a teenager and wasn't diagnosed with melanoma until I was 48. For those of us who get that diagnosis in our 40s, 50s, 60s, and even older that seems to be something of the norm. Burn as a teen and get melanoma decades later. And then we can have a good long stretch of being NED (no evidence of disease). When and if it does come back, it does seem to be coming back aggressively but it doesn't seem to work as fast as those with melanoma that stems from tanning bed usage. We still live with the specter of its return, we all have stats, we all know the score. That said, it doesn't seem to act the same way in us as it does with people who frequent tanning beds (with or without also sunning).

So, I'm not a doctor. I'm not a melanoma researcher. I'm not someone who can speak with final and absolute authority about what I've written about how dangerous tanning bed melanoma is, but I am someone who is out there and exposed to stories. I am someone who sees what she sees and thinks it's worth mentioning and warning about. I am someone who knows the importance of full body skin checks. And I am someone who cares.

Just maybe, maybe, if you're a tanner you'll take heed of something here and act on it. Stop that tanning, or at least keep a highly vigilant check on every inch of your body and get anything and everything that's suspicious checked out.

I don't want to meet you on Melanoma Road, but I'm here for you if I do.

I'd much rather you make me grateful that you read and paid attention to this post.