I will admit it. I was an addict. I have recently thought a lot about my tanning past. Mostly the "WHY". Why did I ever start? Why did I think I looked better with a tan than without?
I can remember my family laying out. My Mom, my cousins, one of my aunts. As a kid, I was outside a lot and I tended to be tanned throughout the summer. I didn't think anything of it as a kid. We didn't wear sunscreen daily. Only if we were going to the zoo or the beach so we wouldn't burn. But, as a teen, I had acne and with acne, comes flawed skin. I started laying out and liked the way a tan, or even a burn, would cover up my bad teen complexion. I lived in Michigan though and had to "soak it up" in the summer as much as possible. My best friend had a pool. We used to drown in tanning oil, (yes OIL!) and float around the pool all day. We got dark. We loved it. I never used a tanning bed as a teen. But, if I had been allowed to, or had access to one, I would have. I am so glad I didn't. I would probably not be here today. When my kids were little I didn't have time to tan like I did when I was a teen. I missed the days of floating in my best friends pool! I hated being pale! I was thin and tall so I always thought I looked sick. People would always comment about my paleness. I could never wait until summer!
I decided in January 2010 (age 39) to start doing something for myself. I was overworked, over stressed, and felt like I needed something to relax, something just for me! I was scared, but I went to a local tanning salon and talked to the young (I mean YOUNG! She looked like a teenager, and probably actually was!) She told me how great it was and if I liked to tan I would LOVE tanning beds. It was quicker and had better results. The owner was a lady probably about my age. She talked me into the biggest package. For $129.00 a month you got unlimited use in all their beds. AND you could get 3 spray tans, AND a water massage too! (This was a really cool thing, a bed that massages you with water!) I was excited and anxious to start. I was TERRIFIED when I shut the top on the bed for the first time! It was like being in a coffin. I don't like small spaces at all! So I just closed my eyes and before I know it I started to relax and then my time was up. I was addicted after the first visit. I went the next day and upped my time each visit. At the end of the first week I was seeing a difference and I was at the max 12 minutes. The young tanned receptionist suggested I try the stand up and I went for the full time and got burned. I lied to her the next time I went and said I hadn't gotten burned. It wasn't that bad and I had had worse! I was going 4 times a week. I had to get my money's worth! I remember my fiance when I told him about it. He was not happy at all. Everyday he would ask me if I went tanning. I would lie to him. He never knew how often I was going. My 15 year old daughter wanted to go too, at first. Then the darker I got she would tell me she thought I was going too much. It felt like they just didn't want me to have my relaxation time. They were trying to rain on my parade! I renewed for another month. I tried every bed. I never did the spray tan that I had 3 free ones, because I didn't think I would like it, and I hardly needed it! I took my daughter finally to get a spray tan, her first, before a school dance. She got the lightest one, because she didn't want to look orange, she just wanted a natural looking tan. She wasn't thrilled with it, she thought it was too light. I agreed, and the next school dance a few months later, we got her a spray tan with the medium shade and it looked great! She didn't like that it was a cold spray and that it didn't last. She really wanted a membership for tanning and asked for one for her 16th birthday. She asked for months and I would always say, "I don't know, you are kinda young to start tanning", or "maybe when you are 16." I thought about it, then I decided I would do it, but didn't tell her.
That is about the same time I noticed the mole on the back of my thigh when I was putting on lotion to get in the tanning bed. It seemed raised. I told myself it was nothing and tanned that day anyway. I would check on it every couple days, when I would think about it. I thought maybe I had knicked it and it had bled. That must be why it was swollen. I stopped tanning because it wasn't going away. It was November. I had tanned all of January, February, March, April and May. I stopped in the summer, because I could just lay out. I started back in September, but only got the limited plan. I went 2-3 times a week, but always for the maximum time. 12 minutes. It was enough. I looked up skin cancer on line and the first picture I saw of melanoma I knew. I knew I had melanoma. I was absolutely astounded by what I learned. It could kill you. I always thought that if I ever got skin cancer, it would be when I was old and they would just cut off the little area, no big deal. I was in the medical field and I had no idea about melanoma. I waited from November to February before I finally said something about the mole to my fiance. He wanted me to go to the dermatologist immediately. I was still in denial in a way. I stopped looking up info on the internet and thought I had time. I needed to get things in order first. I reinstated a cancer policy I had and that took almost 2 months. But, I thought if I didn't it would be bad if this mole was going to cause me to have surgeries and chemo. I would need to have the insurance. Once it was finally in place, I went to my primary care doctor for a physical the very next day. I showed it to her and she referred me to a dermatologist. Luckily, I got an appointment with him the next day. It was April 1st, 2011. The PA removed the nasty little mole and also another spot on my chest that just never seemed to heal. It was pinkish and would bleed. I felt much better having those areas removed. I told my fiance that I knew they were both cancer. I was glad to have it off me!! I never realized how it would feel actually having cancer. My fiance went with me to the follow up appointment for results. I was not surprised when he told me it was melanoma. My fiance was obviously surprised. I was strong for him. The little spot on my chest was basal cell carcinoma. He wasn't as worried about that spot and said we could take care of it later. I didn't hear what stage the melanoma was and I didn't hear a lot of what he was saying. I kept things light. I laughed and joked. I thought it must be really hard as a doctor to tell someone they have cancer. I was glad that there was a plan. I was being referred to a surgical oncologist and would need to have surgery and a lymph node biopsy. I met with him and surgery was set. The closer it got the more terrified I was. I will leave the details of the surgery and recovery for later, but let me just say, it is much more than having a little spot cut off! It was the worst experience of my life!
I have read several things about tanning being addictive. It most certainly is! I know what an addiction is. I was a smoker for 20 years. It was definitely an addiction. I felt so good when I was tanning. When I stopped I could feel it. My energy level decreased and I became moody. I was going through withdraw. It makes me so sad when I see young teens tan. Some are way too tan, like I was. I assume their parents do not know the dangers. Like me. I speak up to prevent this from happening to others. I want to march in front of the tanning salon I went to and show them my scar. I want to put them right out of business. I know that someday they will be out of business. I think more people are becoming smart about their skin. I am going to scream it until the day I die. Tanning = skin cancer and skin cancer is cancer! Melanoma is not a diagnosis you want, or that you want your child to have. All from tanning. Your life is not worth a tan.