As a teenager, it’s hard to imagine what the rest of your future will hold. And for many young, healthy teens recognizing how the risks you take when you’re young can impact your future is even harder.
At 16, I was preparing for my first ever prom, and a huge part of that preparation—maybe even the biggest part—was getting a perfect tan. I’m already extremely pale and this was during peak Jersey Shore days so having a great tan was a big deal.
The weeks leading up to prom I tanned as if my life depended on it. I went every day after school and made it part of my daily routine. Prom came and went and I was tan—mission accomplished!
A couple months later I went to a dermatologist for a regular skin check. There wasn’t anything I was concerned about so I can’t even remember what prompted me to schedule the appointment in the first place. At the appointment, the doctor looked at a mole on my back and was immediately concerned. He cut it out and sent it for a biopsy. I really didn’t think anything of it and wasn’t worried at all but to my surprise, he called me back to let me know the mole had been precancerous.
Several years later, my mom who is 100% Italian, never used a tanning bed, and has olive-tone skin was diagnosed with melanoma. She was thankfully able to catch it early enough that it could be removed without her needing any additional treatment. Now, she wears hats and long sleeves in the summer, is constantly applying and reapplying sunscreen, and goes for skin checks every few months.
Fast-forward to 2018, and now if I ever have an event where I don’t want to be the palest person in the room, I’ll go get a spray tan instead of subjecting myself to weeks of harmful rays when the same result can be achieved at a single ten-minute visit. Whether or not my constant tanning that year in high school lead to my mole becoming precancerous, I will never know, but what I do know is that I will never set foot in a tanning bed again. No event—not a wedding, a vacation or prom—is worth risking your life for. I feel extremely fortunate that my mom’s treatment has been so simple and that my mole wasn’t more serious but I am still constantly reminded every day how important it is to protect yourself from the sun and be aware of your body’s changes.