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A woman who's brain is tanning in a tanning bed

Tanning: My Collection of Mistakes

Hoarding is quite the buzzword as of late. Reality television shows on the topic garner millions of viewers. Signs in grocery stores warn against the panicked collecting of basic items, and memes making light of an otherwise serious situation permeate social media. I have had my own experience with hoarding though I didn’t realize it at the time. My hoarding was of a different sort; I hoarded tanning salon visits.

The introduction of tanning beds

Tanning salons had just begun to take off in West Tennessee in the early 90s, and I was finishing high school. I knew several girls who had begun using tanning beds and one or two whose families purchased one for their homes. At the time, I was leery. I wasn’t yet sure about them and preferred, for the time being, to battle on trying to tan my pale, freckled skin in the sun at every opportunity. I failed miserably at tanning but succeeded with flying colors at burning. Multiple skin cancers would follow beginning in 2007.

Tanning as a lifestyle

In the fall of 1992, I started college. I was a commuter beginning full-time classes and working my first part-time job in a city about 30 minutes from home. Tanning, always on my mind as a teen in the 80s, remained a priority as I started college. I glanced around my classes at strangers who looked fresh from the beach with Sun-In highlighting their hair and then down at my own reddened arms and legs. I wanted what they had and thought that maybe, just maybe, a tanning bed would do the trick for me - that I wouldn’t be red anymore but actually, finally tanned.

Giving in to tanning beds

I purchased my first tanning visits from a local florist who was experimenting with the idea of adding a tanning salon to her business offerings. Advised to ease into it, I tanned for about 8 minutes the first day and skipped a day before returning. Feeling a little warm and seeing no damage, I returned for another 8-minute session. Continuing to add a couple minutes here and there, I quickly became hooked. I soon managed to lay for 20 minutes each visit, and my name was in the books for a package deal - the first of many, many package deals.

A package deal

Now, here is where the hoarding comes into play. As I said before, it didn’t take long to become addicted. After all, I had been obsessed with sun worship for many years. My package deal sat waiting for me in my hometown every evening and weekend after work, but that wasn’t enough. Quickly gaining popularity, tanning salons were popping up in every shopping center. It wasn’t difficult at all to find a salon in my college town, too. You know what came next. Yep - I purchased a package deal there, as well. They were open later on weekdays and earlier on Saturdays than the little shop in my hometown. It was a given for a tanning addict like me.

A true tanning addiction

Because I want you to understand how I found myself in the skin cancer community, I am going full-disclosure on my tanning hoarding. There were multiple times when I was out of town with friends or family and shifted into full panic mode knowing we wouldn’t make it home in time for me to tan. I actively sought tanning beds near me and either considered or actually purchased a single visit just to feed my own need. (Literally just shook my head as I typed that ridiculousness).

Skin cancer from tanning

Tanning, my dermatologists have assured me, led to my melanoma and my ongoing basal cell carcinomas. I haven’t actively tanned since 2007 and began a life of being sun-safe and using sunscreen regularly. Even though I gave up that life, with a fight I may add, I am still dealing with precancerous lesions - paying for my choices even today. My obsession now is making sure that if my footsteps are followed, they are leading far from tanning salons. You will find me now in the sunscreen aisle, loading up. It’s taken far too many years, but I am hoarding something new - something safe.

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