I Lost My Eye—and a Tanning Bed Addiction Is to Blame

I Lost My Eye—and a Tanning Bed Addiction Is to Blame
I Lost My Eye—and a Tanning Bed Addiction Is to Blame

 

I’m that girl from the 80s chasing the ultimate tan. I
wasn’t just a tanner—I was a professional. The girl who would slather on baby
oil tinted with iodine—or Crisco oil when I was desperate—then add in some
niacin to flush my skin and a foil blanket to get that best reflection.

And when the sun was away, I was the girl behind the counter
at the tanning salon on the corner. I was so tan that people looked at me
strangely, but I didn’t care because I felt beautiful and healthy. To me, a tan
was the path to ultimate beauty.

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Even in the 90s when people started talking about SPF and
the harmful effects of the sun, I shrugged it off and lathered up. There was no
better feeling than the heat from the sun or a tanning bed. I became so
addicted that I took a job at the local tanning salon so I could tan a few
times a day. I would hand out cards at the high school across the street for
discounts on unlimited tanning packages. I would sell tanning accelerators to
help others on their journey toward the most amazing golden tan.

I was the girl who didn’t know. A tan was healthy! Go to the
gym and then to tan, nothing would help you live a healthier life! I remember
being told that UV light was safer than the sun, so tanning beds could actually
save my skin and my life!

I wonder if they knew the truth back then.

Even today, a tanning salon will tell you how safe tanning
beds are—even when it is proven that tanning beds increase your chances of skin
cancer and melanoma by 75 percent on your first use for those under the age of
30.

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A few years later, SPF suddenly made its mark in America.
Tanning lotions turned into sunscreen and the talk about skin cancer started to
rise. My first of hundreds of dermatology appointments also started happening.

On my first visit, I had 10 of 62 moles removed—yet I still
didn’t get it. Each time I went to the dermatologist, the moles would come back
abnormal, but not yet cancerous. After so many biopsies, I felt as if I was
invincible, and I still strived for that healthy glow. My career had changed,
but my desire for a deep tan had not. Even when I started working after
college, I found myself in tanning beds now and then. With the spray tan on the
rise, I opted for a tanning bed with a spray tan to boost the color. Little did
I know that 20 years later, melanoma would change my life.

On my 45th birthday, I noticed my vision was a bit strange.
Everything seemed to get wavy when I looked up. I had had LASIK surgery years
before so had not seen an eye doctor in years. Why should I? I had perfect
eyesight, until now.

I went in and the doctor asked if she could dilate my eyes
and get a look at the back of them. When she came back, the look on her face
said it all: Something besides my eyesight was wrong. She calmly said that she
thought I may have ocular melanoma, a rare form of melanoma inside the eye. I
looked around the office waiting for cameras to jump out and say “You’re on
Candid Camera,” but nothing happened. She continued to tell me how I needed to
be seen at the university hospital, and that he could confirm her diagnosis and
treat me. I left her office a bit numb, but assuming I would get a call in a
few days and then make an appointment in a few weeks, as we all know how long
these things can take. But before I made it home (a 15-minute drive), the
doctor’s scheduler called. She said they wanted to see me the next morning and
to expect my appointment to be six-to-eight hours minimum.

It still didn’t sink in.

After hours of testing and going over my treatment options,
I was formally diagnosed with ocular melanoma.

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The first thought in my head after hearing my diagnosis was
that it was from tanning beds. All this time I thought only of melanoma on the
skin, not in the eye or other parts of the body. I started seeing statistics
about tanning beds and the increase of skin cancer just after one use. I
couldn’t forget the many teenagers I talked into getting a healthy tan! How many
lives could I have saved?

After a year of treatment to shrink the tumor, the tumor did
the opposite and grew. My only option was to have the eye enucleated (removed).
If the scars from having many skin biopsies wasn’t enough, now I had no left
eye.

Life was changed for me and for those around me. In turn, I
decided to make a change in my world. I quit my job and went to work for the
Melanoma Research Foundation as a development officer. I wanted to give back to
all of those I may have hurt over the years with my own journey for the
ultimate tan. I felt that fundraising to help find a cure for melanoma.

Over the next year, I had the opportunity to meet so many melanoma
victims. Sadly, so many of them were in their 20s and 30s, and almost all of
them had a tanning bed history. I watched some of these beautiful women and men
lose that battle.

Melanoma isn’t just a cancer you get treatment for and you’re
cured—melanoma may go away for a time, but once it is in your blood stream, the
cells will wander your body looking for its next host. Sometimes, those cells
stay quiet forever, but in many cases, they wake up and the cancer battle with
metastatic melanoma begins. It is an ugly cancer, and one I live with. We get
scans every three-to-six months for years, always wondering “when” the bomb
will drop.

All of this for a TAN.

Today, I look at my life or in my son’s eyes and I wish I
could do it all over again. This time, I would stay out of the sun, or at least
protected while I was in it. 

 

 

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