Regular tanning in general is not a safe practice, but tanning under the strong rays of a tanning bed is like putting a gun to your skin. Just ask Tawny Willoughby who spent her teen years tanning in them four and five times a week, and has now had basal cell carcinoma five times.
However, Tawny is not just suffering in silence. The 27-year-old mom is determined to spread awareness of the dangers of tanning beds, which is why she posted this graphic picture of herself post-cancer cell removal. She bravely put the photo up on Facebook with the caption, “If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here you go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like.”
The image is so disturbing that Facebook actually flagged it for “graphic violence.” However, that was after it was shared over 10,000 times. Now, it’s been shared over 50,000 times and Tawny has received a flood of supportive messages from people applauding her courage.
Tawny admits she overused tanning beds while growing up in Kentucky. She even had a personal tanning bed in her house, which was apparently not an uncommon thing. She told the Daily Mail, “I didn’t really even think about the future or skin cancer at the time.” This is unfortunately a common trend in young people — they feel impervious to it because they feel young and healthy. However, skin cancer can hit at any age if you’re not taking precautions. For Tawny, that age was 21 when she was in the middle of nursing school.
One of her friends at school was diagnosed with melanoma, so she thought she’d get tested just to be safe. Sure enough, she too had skin cancer, and from then until now, she’s had basal cell carcinoma five times and squamous cell carcinoma once. As you can see from her picture, the treatments are invasive and painful, and she must continue to get checkups at the dermatologist every six to 12 months so that the cancer doesn’t take hold. It’s common for some melanoma to be removed each visit.
While Tawny definitely overused tanning beds and is paying a major price for it, according to the IARC, just using a tanning bed once increases your risk of developing skin cancer by 15 percent. If you first used a tanning bed before the age of 35, your risk jumps up to a whopping 75 percent.
Tawny has some good advice for anyone who’s unsure of what melanoma looks like. “Skin cancer is not always moles, only one of mine have been a mole. Get any suspicious, new and growing spot checked out. Anything that doesn’t heal, possibly bleeds on and off and crusts.” It’s all about early detection and removal in order to prevent the melanoma from scarring or worse, metastasizing.
Now, her main concern is staying healthy for her 2-year-old son Kayden and her loving husband. However, she’s thrilled that her post went viral and is inspiring people to think twice about tanning beds. “It’s really cool to hear people say they won’t tan anymore. I’ve had mothers thank me after sharing my pictures with their daughters. People in my hometown said they are selling their tanning beds,” Tawny told the Daily Mail.
Statistically, one in five Americans will develop a form of skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The best way to combat it is yearly dermatology checkups, careful monitoring of any changes in your skin and looking to people like Tawny who are dealing with the difficult repercussions of using tanning beds every day.
In her words, “wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people’s mistakes.”
— The Independent (@Independent) May 13, 2015