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.



Anonymous said...

Well Said! Love your writing and your advocacy for Melanoma.

Strong Steph said...

GREAT post Chelsea!! :) keep sharing!

Melanie Mayo said...

You have such an amazing way with words!! Very powerful post!! <3

SunbedbanUK said...

Keep up the great work Chelsea

Unknown said...

Nice post! It is frustrating as well as interesting to see the different perspectives of folks these days. And, there are times that no matter what you say, the other person isn't going to try to understand your perspective, you know? I have students who are freshmen in high school- 14 and 15 years old- who are tanning today with parental permission. I can name 8 people in my school district who have been directly touched by melanoma, and one just passed away in December. My husband told me once that people just think it won't happen to them. But, we must keep trying to get the word out. You do such an awesome job of doing just that!

The Path Traveled said...

I don't know how I missed this post before but as I read it I found myself getting more angry at what Mr Internet man said. Yes, I didn't have anyone holding a gun to my head when I got in one of those tanning beds, and I didn't stop and think about my life as I got older while I was getting sunburned in my youth. But, I will have to fight skin cancer the rest of my life. I may not die from it, more like from a heart attach or old age, who knows. He certainly doesn't, only God knows.
He may have to eat his words one day when his daughter or granddaughter choices to tan for prom or to show off that new dress.
You stick to your guns and keep standing up to help others. I know I will!

Lulu said...

I'm 30 and have had 3 melanomas and I've also NEVER been near a tanning bed! I think that they should be illegal! Lulu

Unknown said...

Hey Chelsea you inspired me to write a blog of my own having been diagnosed with melanoma yesterday. In my case I never used a sunbed , however I get tired of people thinking its cool to use them and burn their skin. I'm surprised sunbeds haven't been banned.

Janice@www.unexplainedbruising.net said...

That really was an insensitive remark coming from a cancer stricken individual. I think you're right, maybe he's having a hard time accepting what has become of him. If tanning can really lead to serious illness then it should be considered a vice just like cigarettes. Don't you think so? In the Philippines, the consumer tax on alcoholic drinks and cigarettes were raised to a double so minors wouldn't even think of starting an addictive and destructive path to drinking and smoking. I think the government is even planning to raise the tax even more so the population of teenagers engaged in drinking and smoking would be squeezed down to almost nonexistent. I think this should be the same for tanning. These shouldn't be made available to the teens who are in no position yet to assess things responsibly and wisely.