Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring: The Teen Tanning Season

Spring. The season for growth and new beginnings. A time to turn our backs to a dark, cold winter and look ahead to the warmth and light of summer. Many of us celebrate the season by planting our gardens, spring cleaning, planning summer activities, or digging our light and airy clothes out of storage and replacing them with our winter wear. But for many teenagers across the country, in spring their thoughts turn to the wonders of Spring Break and Prom ... and with their preparation for these important events comes increased use of tanning beds. 

Vanity trumps everything for teens, and they must, at all costs, have a certain darker skin tone to go with their prom gown or their shorts and bikinis. What they are unaware of (or just don't care about) is that each use of tanning beds puts them closer to the pain and fear of melanoma, the deadly kind of skin cancer. So by putting out the welcome mat for this disease and other skin cancers, they are quite possibly shattering all the wonderful memories of these annual teen rituals.

I know one such young lady who frequently used tanning beds to darken her very pale skin ... after all, "everyone" was doing it. It was just the thing to do among teens in the mid-1990s, and sadly that has not changed. The particular teen I am talking about is my daughter Jaime ... and this is one of her prom pictures. Notice the tan? Well, then you can also see what killed her a few years later!

Read more of Jaime's story on my blogs Blowing Out Birthday Candles and With This Ring.

Melanoma facts

Melanoma is the number 1 cause of cancer death in young women between 25 and 29 years of age (Jaime was 29 when she died from melanoma) and number 2 in young adults 15 to 29 years old ... and it can be prevented in many cases by avoiding tanning beds and practicing sun safety. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if it's started before age of 30. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is projected to kill 9,710 US citizens in 2014, about one person every hour of every day.

Tanning myths


Back when Jaime was tanning, the indoor tanning industry was spreading misinformation (aka lies) about the "benefits" of using tanning beds. And sadly, nothing has changed!

  • Myth: Tanning beds will give you a "base tan," so you won't get burned by the sun when you hit the slopes or beach for Spring Break.   ***   WRONG!! A "base tan" from tanning beds is a great base for skin cancer and melanoma but doesn't protect your skin. The CDC says, "A tan is the body's response to injury from UV [ultraviolet] rays, showing that damage has been done. A "base tan" only provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 3 or less, which does little to protect you from future UV exposure." It's a deadly myth! 

  • Myth: I have to get tan to look good.  ***  WRONG!! Embrace your natural skin color. It was given to you for a reason. A "golden glow" has been made socially popular through magazines and reality TV, but in the real world, that tan can kill you, just like it killed my Jaime. And if you do survive, your skin will pay the price if you torture it in a tanning bed, by gifting you with fine lines and wrinkles, sagging skin, and brown spots ... not to mention the possibility of any or all of the three kinds of skin cancer. Your eyes can also be abused by tanning beds because the UV rays can penetrate through your closed eyelids, possibly putting cataracts or cancer of the eye in your not too distant future. And don't forget the other things you can get from a tanning bed besides a tan ... genital or skin warts, rashes, and infections ... all for the same price!

  • Myth: I don't need to worry about sun protection on cloudy or rainy days.  ***  WRONG!! UV rays, not temperature, do the damage to your skin. Clouds do not block the rays, they only filter them slightly.

  • Myth: Tanning indoors is safer than in sun.  ***  WRONG!! Even though tanning beds operate on a timer, your exposure to the UV rays varies based on age and type of bulbs. Some tanning beds give you up to 12 times the intensity of the noonday sun. But that doesn't mean you can safely lay in the sun for hours without protection. Be sun smart too!

  • Myth: Using tanning beds just for Spring Break or Prom isn't enough radiation to hurt you. ***  WRONG!! Just one indoor tanning session increases your chances of developing melanoma by 20%, and each additional session during same year increases your risk by almost another 2%. Also consider that the UV radiation our body absorbs is cumulative ... and we have no pop-up timer to tell us when we have had more than our lifetime limit. That one time tanning bed session might be just the one to push you over your allotment, so if you enjoy playing Russian roulette with your life, go for it!

  • Myth: The vitamin D you get from using tanning beds will make you healthier and protect you from cancer and other diseases.   ***  WRONG!! According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, vitamin D is received through exposure to UVB rays, and the bulbs used in tanning beds mainly emit UVA rays. There are better ways to get vitamin D (10 minutes of sunlight, diet, or supplements) than frying in a tanning bed and putting yourself in danger.

  • Myth: Tanned skin is healthy skin.   ***  WRONG!! The FDA says, “Although some people think that a tan gives them a ‘healthy’ glow, any tan is a sign of skin damage.”
    The science is clear; there are no health benefits from tanning beds that can't be obtained more safely and without risk of skin cancer.

The Tanning Truth

Truth: There is no good reason to use tanning beds, but there are lots of reasons not to!

If my little prom princess Jaime were alive, she would tell you that no tan is worth dying for! Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It protects you, and you should protect it in return. Stay out tanning beds ... and practice safe sun by wearing sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses or by seeking shade. Don't be the dead girl with a tan! It's just not that cool!!

 Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)

Twitter: @melanoma_mama
Facebook: (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
Etsy: (Jjem Creations)
Ebay: (Jjem Creations)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Blowing Out Birthday Candles ...

March 16, 2007. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny Spring day. It was my birthday. It was a perfect day for celebration ... but it was to be the worst day of my life. On that date many years before, I had taken my first breath; on that same date 60 years later, my only daughter Jaime would take her last.

The nightmare begins

My baby girl was diagnosed with melanoma when she was 20 years old, after years of searching for the perfect tan with the help of tanning beds. She was a frequent fryer and paid the ultimate price. A mole on her back seemed to be where this cancer wanted to set up shop. That damn mole caused more pain, suffering, and broken hearts than I can find words to describe.

Initially she was determined to be in an early stage of melanoma, and we were told after 3 years that she was cured. NOT! I know now that you are never "cured" of melanoma. If you are lucky, it becomes inactive until something wakes it up at a later date. February 2002 Jaime's cancer awakened (see my blog With This Ring ...), and our nightmare began. She was in the final stage, Stage IV. Her cancer had spread, and there was no stopping it. Jaime faced this challenge with amazing strength and courage and a positive attitude, which she also demanded from those around her ... and always with a smile on her face. She was so determined that she would not die from this horrific disease that we were all convinced that she would indeed beat it. We chased it around her little body for 5 years with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, every treatment option available ... until ... until March 16, 2007.

Sleep, my little one, sleep

Her last night was a good one, considering. Her brother Ben and I slept by her side at the hospital that night. I guess the word "slept" isn't really the best word choice. We watched her tiny body in the huge hospital bed move up and down gently with each breath she took, like I used to watch all my babies as they slept. She was curled up in a ball, just like she liked to sleep and hadn't been able to for many months because of breathing problems caused by tumors pressing on whatever they were pressing on. We listened to her softly chattering away. We couldn't make out what she was saying, but her sweet child-like tone was assurance that she was enjoying the conversation. And then she would giggle. And that giggle is the last sound I heard her make ...

The end of hope

By the following morning (Friday, March 16), Jaime had drifted into a coma. Her oncologist came to see her in her hospital room as he did every morning and evening. He wasn't on call that weekend, and without giving it much thought, I said, "Well, see you on Monday." He looked at me with the saddest of looks and shook his head no. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the room, and it hit me ... we will not be here on Monday!  I think that is the first time that I really allowed myself to understand that we were at the end. All the treatments, medications, scans and reports, doctor office and hospital visits, clinical trials, barf bags, cases of Ensure, doctors and nurses, new friends made through this journey, old friends lost who didn't understand, a new melanoma vocabulary, the dark sense of humor we had developed to help us cope, all the fear, all the pain, all the tears, all the prayers had lead us to this point. There was no more room for hope ... the hope we had clung to for 9 years; the hope Jaime demanded that we have.

Happy Birthday, Mom

Then my son gently reminded me that it was my birthday. I told Jaime that I would love for her to open her eyes and wish me a Happy Birthday ... but if she couldn't, then the best birthday gift she could give me would be to leave her melanoma-battered body behind and just fly away. And off she flew ...

But Jaime's story doesn't end there. I am not telling you her story to solicit sympathy but to make you aware of the torture that tanning beds and melanoma has caused our family and friends. I am telling you Jaime's story because she can no longer do so ... and it is a story you need to hear. Her story has been featured on local and national TV news, radio, magazines, newspapers, public service announcements ( ... and even in theaters. Almost every lawmaker across the country in any state considering tanning bed legislation has heard her story, along with the FDA and the CDC. Her story is told on Facebook and Twitter and at melanoma walks and events. A scholarship at her alma mater University of North Texas has been started in her name, and her professors tell her story to their young students. Her face has even smiled down from melanoma awareness billboards! Don't count her out because she is not done yet.

On March 16, 2007 ... like blowing out candles on a birthday cake, the light of a young life, my sweet Jaime's life, flickered and was gone. And all our lives have been darker without her laughter, her joy, her courage, her love, and her light. We miss you, Jaime girl, with every beat of our hearts!

 Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)
Twitter: @melanoma_mama
Facebook: (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
Etsy: (Jjem Creations)
Ebay: (Jjem Creations)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Social Media & the Black Ribbon

Social media is an amazing tool, and I am in awe of its power. It can unite thousands who thought they were fighting a disease alone; it can bring about positive social change. I am delighted to report that social media has had an impact on those in the melanoma community ... and on anyone who has skin!

I was fortunate to be part of a group representing the melanoma community that participated in a teleconference with the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) regarding their upcoming May Melanoma/Skin Cancer Awareness Month campaign. The AAD is an organization of over 17,000 US and international dermatologists, dealing with any and all skin conditions/diseases. Its support is valued by the melanoma community (melanoma is the type of skin cancer that can be deadly), although the melanoma community has proven that we can, if we must, stand alone. But we would rather stand together!

The Orange Crush Campaign

Many may remember that the AAD's May 2013 campaign caused quite a ruckus. I understand that their intent was to draw attention to skin cancer, but in the process, they managed to offend most of the melanoma community by attempting to change our awareness color from black to orange. And yes, the ribbon color is a BIG deal to those fighting a disease or disorder. It identifies and creates awareness (just look at the pink ribbon, if you don't believe me).

The dermatologists were encouraged not only to wear orange but to throw parties with orange cupcakes and orange confetti on Melanoma Monday ... because melanoma is so much fun??? It was painful and disrespectful to those fighting and to the families who have lost loved ones to this ugly disease. We were appalled that the same dermatologists who treated our disease, who watched our warriors suffer and die, were celebrating Melanoma Monday rather than honoring melanoma patients and remembering those who could not be saved.

But it goes further than that. One major problem with educating the public about melanoma is the idea that it is "just" skin cancer. Cut it out and go on with your life ... which is far from true. So it is certainly not helpful to have melanoma thrown in as just another skin cancer. It needs to be respected and feared ... and that is just not compatible with Popsicle orange. 

Are You Listening???

Through social media, the melanoma community fought back while at the same time trying to educate the public about melanoma. We explained that black is our awareness color because melanoma actually means "black tumor."  Yes, it is depressing and sad but so is melanoma ... and dark and evil. There is nothing cheerful, happy, or vibrant about melanoma. One person dies in the US every hour from this vile disease. 

Plus, to add to the pain, orange is the color of the sun ... a reminder to many melanoma warriors fighting for their lives of how they got started on their cancer journey.  Each new "orange" event introduced during the month of May was like a dagger in the heart of the melanoma community.
We were hurt; we were offended; we struck out through our tweets and Facebook posts. Yes, we were obnoxious and loud. I confess to making a few ... okay, a lot ... of smart-ass remarks myself on Twitter and Facebook during May to defend the melanoma community and our BLACK ribbon. 

David vs Goliath

Although we were small in numbers, we were heard, which brought about our teleconference with the AAD. We used social media and brought about change ... and it will be beneficial change for the melanoma community, as well as for those who want to avoid joining this type of cancer group (which should be everybody). 

This year the AAD will be supporting the melanoma community during May because we are now working together. Dermatologists will be asked to wear BLACK on Melanoma Monday, and melanoma will be the focus of the AAD's campaign not just for one day but for the whole first week of May. Their campaign will promote early detection of skin cancer ... instead of the color orange. 

There probably will be bumps along the way, but I think we are headed in a positive direction. And thanks to the power of social media, and to the AAD for being receptive, our voices were heard and lives will be saved. Over 7,200 supporters joined a group on Facebook to wear black for Melanoma Month last year, so we are not as weak in numbers as we thought. But joining with the AAD and their dermatologists will make us even stronger and able to save even more lives through early detection, information, prevention, and research. And it feels really good!

As a follow-up to this blog and to see how it all turned out in May 2014, see

 Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna) (Remember Jaime) (Jjem Creations) (Jjem Creations)