Monday, February 11, 2013

Using My Voice

Sometimes you needs to sit back and listen.
Other times you gotta make some noise...

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that I was very upset on Friday night. I am a Virginia girl & I love my state. What I don't love is our lack of laws protecting our teenagers from tanning salons. There is currently a bill SB1274 that will hopefully pass that will prevent teenagers 14 and under from using public tanning beds & will cause kids 15-17 to need parental consent in order to use the coffin-like beds. While I truly wish this banned all minors from tanning like the law that forbids minors from smoking, I realize that this is a start in the right direction for my state. 

On Friday RVA News posted an article that discusses SB1274. The author, Allison Landry, writes, 
"For example, California banned teens under 18 from indoor tanning. Virginia is unlikely to go that far, state officials say. To many people, other environmental health concerns in Virginia that take precedence over tanning, said Gary Hagy, director of food and environmental health at the Virginia Department of Health."

Then I read the part of the article that interrupted my peaceful & lazy Friday evening:

“There is only so much you can do to protect the youth of an area,” he said. For Virginia, “indoor tanning is not as much of an environmental threat as it might be for California.” (Source.)

I was furious.

So, I wrote a letter.

Dear Mr. Hagy,

My name is Chelsea Price. I'm a 25-year-old Virginia native, a graduate of Radford University, and an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am also battling malignant melanoma.

I was 14-years-old the first time I used a tanning bed. I had been invited to prom by a cute older guy and wanted to be sure to look my prettiest. Tan was beautiful and I wanted to be beautiful. After those first few sessions I began to tan before major event like graduations, vacations, and weddings. I wanted to have that 'healthy glow' people referred to.

I was 23-years-old when an oncologist told me that malignant melanoma would not kill me "right now."

As you should expect, the statement that you gave to RVA News recently has me quite upset. In case you have forgotten, you said, "...indoor tanning is not as much of an environmental threat as it might be for California.” Excuse me, sir, but how is indoor tanning more of a threat to California than Virginia? Are the teenagers in Virginia less important than California? Do you have a daughter you allow to absorb the UV radiation that is classified as a class 1 carcinogen, just like tobacco smoke and asbestos? Why are the tanning beds more of a threat in California? I'm quite certain the beds are manufactured the same way. (Please don't tell me they are more popular in Cali than in Virginia. Have you seen the young girls lately, Mr. Hagy? What about the women who look ten years older than what they are due to the leather-like skin?)

While I am truly disgusted by your comment and your obvious lack of interest in saving Virginia's minors, I understand that this may not be your area of specialty. To give such an ignorant comment about a truly important subject seems insensitive and dangerous. Do you realize that melanoma in young adults is now considered an epidemic?

You may think that we cannot control our youth; however, isn't that what we attempt to do? Is a minor allowed to walk into a store and buy a pack of cigarettes? We control their inability to buy cigarettes. I will remind you once again that tobacco smoke and UV radiation from tanning beds are both classified as class 1 carcinogens. Why is it OK to give them one and not the other?

I cannot change your opinion. I cannot force you to retract your statement. I am quite certain I will never hear back from you or have the opportunity to speak to you in depth on this subject, but I can ask you to do three things before you make another comment regarding tanning beds and minors. I beg you to read my story. I ask you to take five minutes out of your day and view my surgery pictures. Then I ask you to dig deep and ask yourself if you would be OK with handing your teenager a pack of smokes and sending her on her way. It's the same thing, Mr. Hagy.

I truly hope you never have to see firsthand how dangerous tanning beds really are...even for Virginians.


Chelsea Price
Stage III Malignant Melanoma Warrior
Author of

I wanted someone to know I was not OK with that type of attitude being shared at public level so I sent a similar email to other members of Virginia's Department of Health. Simply put, I couldn't stay silent. I washed my hands of it Friday night & figured that would be the last of it all.

It wasn't even 10:00 AM this Monday morning when I received an email from the manager of Risk Communication & Public Health Information:

"Dear Ms. Price –

At your convenience, I would very much like to speak with you about your email regarding a quote from Mr. Gary Hagy that appeared in an article in RVA news."

You can imagine my shock.

 I called, and shockingly enough, we had a pleasant conversation! According to Mrs. Brewster, the author of the article is a college student who interviewed Mr. Hagy last November regarding California's bill that banned minors from tanning. He has not spoken to her since then. Apparently the quote was taken out of context and twisted to fit this story. Mrs. Brewster said that Mr. Hagy was "touched" by my email as he has a 14-year-old daughter and that they would be responding to my emails; however, she wanted to speak to me on the phone for two reasons. First, she wanted to let me know how they were all "touched" by my heartfelt emails (I sent 3 separate types of emails to numerous people at the Department of Health), that they are truly sorry the twisted words of Mr. Hagy upset me, and to let me know that they have already contacted the student's faculty adviser regarding the article. She also stated that neither Mr. Hagy nor the Virginia Department of Health share the opinion that California's teenagers are more important than Virginia's. 

Then they wanted a favor from me. They wanted permission to share my emails. They are going to use my emails to show the college student just what personal damage can be caused when you take things out of context. Not only was I upset, according to Mrs. Brewster, Mr. Hagy was visibly upset after reading my email. I gave them permission.

While I have no idea if this will change the minds of anyone within the Virginia Department of Health regarding teens and tanning, I do hope it will spark an interest to do more education for our teenagers. Too many lives depend on it...

Just Friday someone told me that no one would read my emails. I'm thrilled to say that they read them, they responded, and I feel certain that at the very least, they had an interesting conversation about teens & tanning today. 



Katie Wilkes said...

I absolutely frickin love your tenacity, girl. This post made me feel so good. Keep it up!

Unknown said...

Chelsea, This is so awesome! I'm so impressed with your stand and that you don't take that shit sitting down!!! I think your letter was so incredibly well-written! Awesome job!

Paul said...

Sitting in the office waiting to meet my new oncologist today, nervously flipping through FB on my IPhone and trying to pass the time when I came to your post and it immediately brought a smile to my face. What great work Chelsea. You really are kicking cancers ass.

Life Tastes Good said...

Great job, Chelsea! You are an inspiration! We have just started our journey with melanoma. My daughter, 20, was diagnosed in January. Had surgery and lymphs came back clear. So she is stage 1b and will be monitored by her derm and onc. I feel fortunate to have found your blog as it is very imformative and your strength is contagious. God bless you

gayle said...

Wow. I seriously have tears in my eyes right now. This is AMAZING, I am so so so proud of you! That might sound weird coming from someone you don't really know, but I really, really am proud of you for using your voice, and passionately trying to right what could be tacked as an impossible goal. But, one step at a time, one person at a time. Not everyone will listen, but just keep going. Get 'em, Chels.

Gayle | Grace for Gayle