I know a lot of people don't want to listen to any melanoma awareness talk because they don't want to change their tanning habits, like me. Because I know this and understand it, I encourage you to take small steps in changing your habits. If you have a habit of letting yourself get burned in the summer, please be more careful this year! Wear more sunscreen than you think you need, and re-apply it more often than you think you need to. If you tan in the tanning bed, I'd like to say quit, but I know not everyone will, so at least cut back and supplement with self tanning lotion - that's what I did pre-melanoma and it helps boost the tan a lot (I feel like I'm doing something very wrong by offering any tanning tips, but I'm just working with the knowledge that not everyone will just quit tanning!). But understand this - tanning your skin is damage. It just is. We all have seen the stereotypical old lady who's tanned too much and has leathery skin, like this:
I think we can all agree that it's not the most attractive thing ever, and if you continue to tan, you will look like some version of this when you're old! You'll have more wrinkles, and your skin will not look nice. So while you feel like you have a "healthy glow", you're really just damaging your skin, and your future self will regret it, skin cancer or not.
And if you're really worried about the way you look, scars from having skin cancer removed don't look pretty. It's not just melanoma, basal and squamous skin cancers also require a chunk o' skin to be removed. I've been fortunate to have my melanomas on my back/shoulder, where there's some extra skin, but if there's not enough extra skin where yours is, they could have to graft skin from somewhere else, and it's just not fun. Don't even get me started on the fear that skin cancer will show up on my face, and even though I have ALWAYS, even as a teenager, been very careful not to let my face get ANY sun, it could still happen. Plastic surgeons can do great things but who wants to go through that?! If you need a dose of the reality of living with advanced stage melanoma, go read the message boards at Melanoma Research Foundation and you will see personal accounts of what these people go through. Not what the doctors say, although that's elsewhere on the website, but real people, young, old, rich, poor, from all over the world, who have had their lives turned upside down by melanoma. Traveling to appointments, worrying about what insurance will or won't cover, having multiple surgeries and treatments, and sometimes planning for the loss of their lives or the lives of loved ones. If all you know about melanoma is me and what I've been through, you don't know a fraction of this world. I am thankful every day that so far, my situation has been pretty easy, at least compared to so many others'.
The flip side of the tanning controversy are the claims of how good the sun is for you, the vitamin D exposure, etc. First of all, I laugh whenever I see the whole vitamin D thing used as a reason to tan in the tanning bed, not because it's actually funny, but because how many of these vitamin D proponents eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables needed to get other important vitamins and minerals? Now, if someone does eat a healthy diet, and tries to get a little sunshine on a regular basis, I think that's great. But don't push tanning as something that's healthy for you, especially in a tanning bed. Getting a small amount of sunshine is a different story than baking yourself in the sun or tanning bed. If you're out enough to get "tan", you're probably overdoing it. It makes me a little sick to read articles that make it sound like tanning is good for you, and it's not like I'm totally anti-sun, I just think it's irresponsible to pretend that it's healthy to get inside a tanning bed for 20 minutes a few times a week. For 99% of tanners, I would be willing to bet that it's about the way they look and has nothing to do with vitamin D.
So, the takeaway from this is, try to be moderate and work on changing some of your habits. Just like I tell personal training clients, or anyone who asks my advice on weight loss, making small changes to your existing habits is the key. I'd love to get all of you to quit the tanning bed, wear sunscreen on a daily basis, and really load up on sunscreen when you're out in the sun, but I can see you now, putting your fingers in your ears, saying "lalalalalala I can't hear you" at the first sign of a skin cancer lecture. So for yourself and those who love you, please just be more careful!