Former tanning bed user goes through living hell
13 December 2011
At just 27, Erin Welsh's indoor tanning habit caught up with her.
The fair-skinned Albertan had been using tanning beds for several years before a dermatologist told her that a mole on her leg was melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer.
"Today I am cancer-free, but I live everyday regretting my choice to use a tanning bed," says Welsh, an Edmonton sales manager and esthetician who used to work full time but works only a few hours a week now due to her cancer treatment. "The colour of my skin isn't worth the living hell I've been through in this last year."
Research clearly shows that anyone using tanning equipment before the age of 35 increases their risk of cancer by 75 per cent.
"I thought my pale skin was unattractive," says Welsh. "People would say I was pasty and that I needed a 'healthy' glow."
Last year, ten days before Christmas, Welsh received her diagnosis. Although the melanoma hadn't spread to her organs, it had spread to her lymph nodes. Her treatment included surgery and months of chemotherapy.
Artificial ultraviolet rays are known to cause cancer - the World Health Organization recently declared them a known human carcinogen. That puts tanning beds in the same category as tobacco, asbestos and arsenic.
In response, a new coalition called Indoor Tanning is Out is determined to raise awareness while pushing for stronger legislation that would prohibit teenagers from using tanning salons and similar equipment.
"I see more and more skin cancer patients in my practice," says Dr Susan Poelman, a Calgary dermatologist and member of the coalition. "Melanoma used to be regarded as a disease typical of the elderly - unfortunately, it's not limited to that age group anymore."
One in every three Albertans diagnosed with cancer are diagnosed with skin cancer. Every single day, three Canadians die of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
"More than 90 per cent of skin cancer cases are preventable," says Dr Poelman, a clinical lecturer at the University of Calgary who specializes in melanoma. "Because exposure to artificial UV rays is completely unnecessary, our young people need to be aware of the risks they are taking when they go to the tanning salon."
More than ten tanning sessions in a person's lifetime doubles their risk of melanoma.
"Getting a tan is not worth your life," says Welsh, who now sees her dermatologist every three months and an oncologist to ensure she stays cancer-free. "I know there is the risk that my cancer could come back and kill me, and this has taken a tremendous mental toll on myself and my family."
About Indoor Tanning is Out
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.