Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pointing Fingers

I was browsing my Newsfeed this afternoon when I noticed a post shared by Stand Up To Cancer: "People who use a tanning salon before age 35 increase their risk of melanoma by 75%, according to the CDC. These gloomy winter months, please tell your loved ones: an artificial tan is not worth the very real price." (This article was also posted: Tanning beds used by more than a third.)

How right they are to remind folks the danger of tanning during these gloomy months! I'll admit, when it was -10 degrees, the memories of heading to the tanning salon to warm up did flash in my head! Ah, the warmth! It isn't often that Stand Up To Cancer posts anything regarding skin cancer and melanoma so it was a great reminder to see.

I started browsing the comments, impressed that so many people voiced their support of tan-free skin. Then I came across this one comment that actually made me stop what I was doing: "Being a cancer survivor an having no choice in the matter. I have no sympathy for people who fake bake an then they whine when they end up with cancer" (Directly copied & pasted from Stand Up To Cancer's Facebook page.)

Hold up.

Stop a minute.

"I have no sympathy"
"Whine when they end up with cancer"

Did this dude, a cancer survivor, really say that because people make poor decisions during their lives, they shouldn't feel grief when they are faced with those consequences?

I reread it. Yep, that's what he said. (This must be what smokers feel like after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Ouch.)

I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he just picked an insensitive way to respond. So I responded to him: "I don't think you'll find many of us in the melanoma community who expect people to hear us "whine" after we participated in activities that may have caused us to battle a horrifying and incurable cancer. You WILL hear us share our stories with hopes that others learn from our mistakes. Please be careful what you say. Melanoma is like lung cancer. We aren't ALL "at fault" for our diagnosis."

In my opinion, telling a melanoma patient who used to tan, "Sorry, idiot. You dug your own grave" is like looking at a lung cancer patient who used to smoke and saying "Shit happens. You picked up the cigarettes. Deal with it." Yes, both of statements may be true, but would we really say that to someone? 

Would we really blame them for their cancer?

This fella responded to the comments: "Did u read my post all the way through. I said people that use tanning beds know the cosequences before they ever step foot in one. Why be shocked when people lay in one countless times a week ?? I never said anything about snyone who got melanoma any other way." (Again, this was copied & pasted directly from Stand Up To Cancer's Facebook.) 

So this got me thinking. It's 2014, can we really claim to be uneducated about the dangers of tanning beds?

I didn't even have to turn to Google right away. I thought back to my morning commute into work. I was listening to the radio when a commercial came on promoting Tan for Free at the local tanning salon. At the very end of the commercial, the lady says, "Please tan responsibly." 

Then I turned to Google to browse:

-In 2012, Dr. Mercola said, "High-quality indoor tanning devices are safe if you precisely follow the simple guideline of never getting burned" (Read the full article here.)

-Salons continuously state the "health benefits" associated with year long tanning. There's even a full website called Tanning Truth that explains the perks of using these coffin like beds. Then there's salons like this one who have a full page listing reasons why you should tan. This one particular salon even states that you should tan indoors rather than outside. (To view their list of crap, you can click here.)

-During an interview with PBS NewsHour, Bridget Huber, who wrote this awesome article I was thrilled to be included in, stated that the indoor tanning association believes groups like the American Cancer Society and dermatologists have scared people into thinking that the sun and tanning beds will cause cancer. Huber stated, the tanning industry believes "these groups are possibly killing more people than tobacco did by causing what they portray as a deadly epidemic of vitamin D deficiency."

-Who is at the highest rate of believing the lies tanning salons spread: Teenagers. Nearly 30% of teenage girls are using tanning beds. (Source.)

-According to this salon, "Scientists have not found any indication that moderate and responsible indoor tanning over an extended period of time causes skin damage. It is important that you follow the recommended exposure based on the tanning unit used and your skin type. Skin damage, including skin cancer, could occur if a person overexposes the skin to UV."

-"Tanning beds are the best source of vitamin D." C'mon, don't act like you haven't heard that over and over again.

I could go on and on and on--I won't, because I want to watch Sunday's episode of Downton Abbey--but you get the point. It's 2014 and tanning salons are still pushing the benefits of indoor tanning. While some adults may have learned that the salons are just trying to make a buck, 30% of teenagers are still subjecting themselves to the class 1 carcinogens. Until minors are outlawed from making the decision to tan, they will continue. It's only natural. We still live in a society that values golden skin. More than anyone, teenagers are influenced by society. Of course they are going to continue to tan if they are allowed. The threat of cancer? That's years away.

Back to my original point, Do we know the risks when we step foot in a tanning bed? Should we be blamed for our cancer since we did tan? Should we forfeit our right to "whine" since we put ourselves in this position?

I responded to his post:

"But do they really know the consequences? That's pretty bold to say since tanning salons shove the "benefits of responsible tanning" down your throat. I began tanning at age 14--the law allowed this--because I wanted to be pretty in my prom dress. All the other kids did it, why shouldn't I? I tanned off and on until I was 21. It was right around that time that I figured that maybe tanning beds weren't great for me. I cancelled my membership and never stepped foot in one again. 2 years later, I was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma. I know that my immature and uneducated decisions more than likely caused me to be diagnosed with an incurable cancer at age 23, but what can I do about it now? I can "whine." I can share my scar pictures. I can advocate to our local government about why we need to protect our minors against these beds. I can do what needs to be done so that another young girl does not make the same poor decisions I made. But, I will not be suck it up and be quiet just because I did this to myself."

I've met melanoma friends who never used a tanning bed. I've had to say goodbye to friends who never had a sunburn. These people had no control over their cancers, just like an ovarian cancer patient has no control over hers. Some would say I have no right to bitch about my cancer. I did it to myself. 

Here's the thing, Mr. Internet Man, no one will ever beat me up as much as I beat myself up. 

I did the deed and now I will always pay the price. I get it. I also get that this guy probably wishes he could do anything in his power to prevent his cancer. I understand he may be in pain, he may still be emotionally healing, he may never understand how one could make such a decision that could risk their life. I respect that pain. I understand that pain. But here's the other thing: cancer's a bitch, no matter how you get it and no matter what kind you get. Even if I did bring it upon myself, I still want to fight it. I still deserve to fight it.

 So while this fella may never understand the importance of sharing our stories--whining for our cause--I will continue to do so because it's just so obvious how much work still needs to be done.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Words From a Friend

Sometimes I receive emails from people that I automatically know I'll become friends with. This was one of those situations. Having read her story, I knew that it was one that needed to be shared with all of you.  I'm so thankful she agreed to let me share it! So please, meet Chelsea, and share her words with someone who needs to hear them.

 "When I ran across Chelsea’s blog, I knew I wanted to know her. You see, not only do Chelsea and I share the same name, we also share an unfair diagnosis, which for both of us, is oddly in the same spot on our backs. I saw the picture of Chelsea’s scar that looked exactly like mine and felt an instant connection to this stranger miles away. When she asked me to share my story, I was a little nervous, because before now, I’ve never put it on paper. The feelings of it, well, they are just overwhelmingly strong, but the truth is, it needs to be told.
I’m one of the lucky ones, they say.  I never had to undergo chemo or radiation, and all my lymph nodes are still in place, but the truth of the matter is that melanoma changed me completely.  I was diagnosed at 18 during my freshman year of college.  The year prior was full of events that required me to be in evening gowns. There was prom, then the yearly pageant my school held, and don’t forget about those awful vocal music dresses that surely looked better on me when my skin was tan. Those moments in a tanning bed, defined my future.  While my friends were vacationing during Spring Break, I was undergoing a wide excision surgery to remove six inches of skin on my back all the way down to the muscle. This surgery was my cure, but it wasn’t completely healing, because the emotional scar runs a bit deeper and has lasted far longer.
The misconception associated with the word melanoma is that it will simply be cut out and everything  will be fine. I can’t tell you how many of my friends spoke those exact words to me when I shared my diagnosis with them.  Quite frankly, until I had my doctor tell me that there may be a chance that I could only have five to seven years left to live depending on my test results, I didn’t understand the severity either.  My friends couldn’t understand the situation I was in and it wasn’t because I had surrounded myself with people weren’t able to feel empathy; it was because they simply weren’t educated.
My family, they became my saviors, the people I laughed with to distract me from the constant terror I felt in my stomach, the people who held me when I cried, and the people who found strength  for me when I couldn’t find it in myself. In fact, it was my mom, who saved me. She was the one who had noticed the mole on my upper back that had gradually became dark black and she was the one who called me with the information from the doctor of my diagnosis. Often times, I still wonder how she found the strength to call me, her only daughter, to tell me I had cancer.  My melanoma diagnosis didn’t just emotionally scar me; it scarred every person in my family.
Life after melanoma is different to say the least. I’m far more cautious and I’m often fearful of reoccurrence. For the rest of my life, every six months, I will visit my dermatologist. I sit undressed in a brightly lit exam room while my doctor goes over every inch of my skin. These checks, more often than not, end with a biopsy of a something that looks suspicious leaving an open wound on my skin that takes weeks to heal. I then prepare myself to tell my loved ones that we are, yet again waiting on pathology reports. The chance of reoccurrence for me is 2% and while that may seem like a very small number, it is actually quite large in relation to melanoma.
I never dreamed that before I graduated college and said I do, I would be a cancer survivor, but it is my reality. I often have to remind myself to slow things down because facing a diagnosis that could have ended in death caused a horrible sense of urgency for me. Sometimes I have to take a moment to remember that I don’t have to live life so fast because God has given me more time and a chance to leave a legacy. I wasn’t lucky, I was blessed and I feel strongly that I am meant to educate others on how to care for your skin.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t educated on the effects of tanning, but don’t let that be your excuse. Don’t be like me. Your desire shouldn’t be getting tan. Your desire should be to stay alive. Educate yourself before you find yourself in a situation that educates you."  

Please take Chelsea's words and educate someone else on the true dangers of tanning. A big thanks to you, Chelsea, for sharing your story with others! I know it's scary to put yourself out there, but by telling your story, I know you'll save lives. XOXO