Spring is prom season, and every year at this time I feel regret. If I had known that by age 20 I’d be battling stage III melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, I never would have put my life on the line for the perfect tan. But I didn’t really understand.
I knew that tanning could cause skin cancer, but I thought it would be a simple spot that would be taken off, no big scar, end of story. As a figure skater, I tanned before competitions. I tanned before spring vacations and before special events. At age 15, I believed what the promotions said — that tanning would give me a “healthy glow,” increase vitamin D and improve my mood. No one told me the truth. Even my mother didn’t truly realize the risks of tanning until I was diagnosed.
In Minnesota, melanoma rates have doubled in young women since 1995. This disease is now one of the most common cancers among 20- to 49-year-olds. What makes this especially tragic is that melanoma is (in most cases) preventable. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds is the primary risk factor.
In fact, so many studies have found a strong link between indoor tanning and melanoma that the World Health Organization now classifies indoor tanning devices in the highest level — class 1 — the same classification as cigarettes and asbestos.
I underwent multiple surgeries and a month of immunotherapy, and for two years I received weekly injections in an effort to rebuild my immune system. I am currently doing well but, for the next few years and possibly for the rest of my life, I will require frequent and regular follow-up visits to monitor recurrence. No tan was worth this.
My story is a cautionary tale for teens and their parents. According to the Minnesota Student Survey, one out of three Minnesota girls reported tanning indoors in 2013. That’s twice their rate of smoking. We aren’t doing enough to protect our kids. Thanks to Minnesota legislators, that may change. Sen. Chris Eaton, a nurse from Brooklyn Center, and Rep. JoAnn Ward, a former high school teacher from Woodbury, are sponsoring the Minnesota Skin Cancer Prevention Act, which would prohibit minors from using indoor tanning beds. I commend them for their leadership.
Going to prom shouldn’t increase your risk of cancer. Too many girls are dying to be beautiful. Let’s change that.
Megan Ramey lives in Hugo.