Standing up by Walking Away From Tanning Salons--Making Skin Cancer Awareness a Real Priority

May is a pretty important month for me. Most people who know I am an elementary teacher would say it’s because our standardized tests are taking place. Others might say it’s because it marks the end of the school year. They would all be wrong.

May is Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month

May is a big deal because it’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and I am a skin cancer survivor. That still feels strange to see in print; honestly, I don’t know that I have ever spoken those words out loud in the 14 years since my initial melanoma diagnosis.

Shaking in my advocacy boots

Since my first skin cancer surgery in 2007, I have made it a goal to advocate for skin cancer awareness. I wasn’t sure where to start or how to go about it in those first days. I am absolutely certain that I came off as a woman petrified and hellbent on doing all but grabbing friends and family by the collar and shaking caution into their very souls. After a few years, I began to find my groove, and social media gave me a chance to reach beyond my, by now, well-educated family members.

My focus has become the dangers of tanning

During the month of May, I try to step it up by sharing survivors’ stories and facts about sunscreen on a daily basis. Above and beyond all other posts I share are the ones warning of the dangers of tanning--beds and beaches. My dermatologist has more than assured me that my melanoma, basal cell carcinomas, and my recent squamous cell carcinoma all stem primarily from my tanning habits in my teens and 20s. I have been diligent about sharing my surgery and treatment experiences, but this May, however, I am moving in another direction and doing something I have never done before. I realize it’s long overdue.

Taking a stand by walking away

This May, I am standing up by walking away--I am walking away from a business that offers tanning services. I haven’t tanned in a salon since 2007 even though I have found myself shopping in stores or having my hair and nails done in salons where tanning is offered. For years, I thought it was fine as long as I wasn’t tanning myself, but it never really felt right. There was always that little voice in the back of my head whispering, “Aren’t you still really kinda supporting it?” And I really kinda was.

Seen, heard, and understood

May feels like a really good time to finally make the right kind of changes. I can and will still share all the articles and all the sunscreen advice I can get my hands on, but I’m determined to practice what I preach harder and more visibly. I won’t be going back to my usual hair salon. It’s nothing personal against the business itself or the folks who work there, but it’s super personal for me.

How I'm choosing to advocate for skin cancer awareness

This is where advocacy does an about-face. I still need to hear the very words I throw out there--don’t tan...wear sunscreen...self-exams. Advocating for skin cancer awareness requires more than one kind of a long hard look in the mirror. For every post I make and every talk I have with a friend, I need to heed the same advice. If I am going to truly stand against practices that increase the chance of developing skin cancer, I need to walk away. This May, I am doing just that.

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