Tanners: Who’s to Say We Deserved It?
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Whether you seek advice for your particular skin cancer, want tips for coping with anxiety, or seek to share your experiences, the internet can be a fantastic resource and outlet. There exists a wealth of information at your fingertips, and you can fairly quickly connect with others sharing your symptoms, side effects, and concerns. The openness of the internet can be, however, a double-edged sword. I recently found that out the hard way.

Sharing my skin cancer with friends and family

In 2007, I had a malignant melanoma removed from my upper left arm and have since had Mohs surgeries for three basal cell carcinomas. Three years ago, I was introduced to Efudex, a topical chemotherapy, as a treatment for recurring precancerous spots. Though I have been frank with my family and friends, consistently discouraged them from tanning, and have become a strong advocate for sunscreen, I had refrained from sharing videos of myself undergoing Efudex treatment. This summer, however, I decided that it was time to move beyond the sharing of my progress in photographs.

Making a video about my tanning history

A dear friend asked to make a video of me explaining my history of tanning and the impact it has had on my skin. (Tanning was cited by my dermatologist as one of the primary causes for recurring precancerous spots. Sun damage–she calls it–point blank.) At the time the video was filmed, I was in the middle of a course of Efudex treatment on my face. (It made for fairly horrific viewing.) The shares and comments mounted quickly, and many were appreciative of my willingness to advocate for sun safety. It was a difficult and painful video to make, but it was a worthwhile effort. I was truly amazed at the number of people who tagged friends encouraging them to watch and begging them to stop tanning.

One thing led to another and a few months later a blogger, Black is the New Pink: Fight Melanoma, shared the video.

Now, for that “double-edged sword.”

“She got what she deserved”

Apparently, the first commenter on his post was angered by the video. Her exact words were, “She got what she deserved.” Much discussion on the thread ensued, and she was apparently in the minority with her opinion. The blogger proceeded to write his own response in the form of an article. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t had those moments since my melanoma surgery when I had similar thoughts about myself. When I have stood in front of the mirror on Day 20 applying Efudex to an already raw patch of skin with ten days remaining to fight the burning and itching while tending to my seeping flesh, I have had my woeful moments.

Skin cancer does not discriminate

Deserve, though? That’s a tough one. To use the word deserve implies I, and others like me, did something worthy of punishment. Those of us who tanned excessively and shunned sunscreen never set out to hurt ourselves or anyone else. That…that…would warrant some type of punishment. Then we would deserve what we got. That’s not how a skin cancer diagnosis (or any other type for that matter) works. The truth of the matter is that skin cancer does not discriminate. Melanoma Facebook pages and support groups are filled with people from all walks of life, all cultures, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. Not one of them deserved a cancer diagnosis.

The price of tanning

I am a realist. Well aware of the part tanning played in the damage done to my skin, I recognize my role. There are numerous things I could have done to prevent the level of damage I have. Avoiding tanning beds is number one. Opting not to seek a tan outdoors runs a close second. Using sunscreen regularly rounds out the top three. You see, I don’t choose to look at myself and say I deserved what I got. I do, however, believe I am paying the price for uninformed choices. The price of tanning and not using sunscreen is hefty, and I pay it every day.

Spreading the word

Strangely enough, comments like the one on Black is the New Pink: Fight Melanoma’s post don’t hurt me. Words like those come from a deep, dark place of hurt, regret, or loss. I don’t deserve to live a life in fear of the next mole, lesion, or suspicious spot. I know I don’t deserve to endure topical chemotherapy. I surely didn’t deserve a skin cancer diagnosis. I am, though, prepared to pay the price for my choices.

I’ll think of it this way, perhaps. If paying my price allows me to stop someone else from making the same choices I made, then maybe I do deserve the chance to speak my truth and spread the word. I’ll take that.

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