Sunbed or deathbed?

17 years old, I stepped into my first sunbed. £2.50 for a quick 3 minute session, I was convinced it would be harmless.  I was eager to achieve a 'base-tan' before my holiday - to avoid burning and to achieve a golden glow. I told myself I would use it for a maximum of 3 minutes and only a few times before my holiday.

The moment you begin to see visible results, sunbeds become slightly addictive. Your skin tone darkening and your need for fake tan, no longer existent - it just felt, easier. My face clear of blemishes, my skin no longer resembling a milk bottle - my confidence was thriving. 'Just a quick session' here and there, I didn't feel that I was utilising them excessively at all. By the end of my holiday, I'd achieved a tan deeper than any other in my history of tans. It felt good. But then things got bad.

A year later, I was in Mexico with my family. My mum pointed out a tiny mole on my back that she thought looked misshaped, I disregarded it and thought she was being too observant, as mum's often are. Little did I know, she most probably saved my life.

Sat on the plane home from Mexico, swiping through my magazine, an article caught my eye. An 18 year old girl had recently died of skin cancer. For some peculiar reason I believed skin cancer only affected the older generation - it was at this moment I froze and had an overwhelming feeling of horror filled my stomach. A gut feeling was warning me something wasn't right with the mole my mum had pointed out. I wanted to fly the plane faster so I could get home and have it checked for some sense of reassurance that everything was okay (wishful thinking).

'Why haven't you shown me this before?' asked the dermatologist in a manner that left me feeling rather unsettled. 'I hadn't seen it before' I replied. He then sent me for an emergency biopsy. I left the hospital that day in disbelief. I kept telling myself I was fine, things like this don't usually happen to me, so I would be fine. Except, I knew I wasn't fine, the gut feeling was a feeling that had lingered over my conscience since departing my plane home from Mexico. I felt numb and didn't quite know how to process it other than to cry into my pillow, every fear-filled thought alone in my room.

After having my back practically sliced open, leaving a defiant scar down my spine, I had 6 weeks to recover and wait. SIX weeks to find out whether I had the dreaded word 'cancer', skin cancer. I was told that If I had not heard from the hospital during this time frame, to assume I was fine. Week 4, I received a call from the hospital asking me to come in for an appointment a few days later - considering the waiting time for dermatology, for them to fit me in so soon - I just knew to expect the worst.

I can vividly picture the waiting room on the day of my appointment, the nauseous sensation in my stomach and the fact the doctors were running behind schedule by 30 minutes (which wasn't the best of timing considering I was on the verge of collapsing from acting a nervous wreck).  My name was called, my heart dropped and I stepped into the appointment room. I felt my doctor was speaking to me one word per minute, but that was just my eagerness to hear my results kicking in.

'I'm sorry to say, your test results show you have a melanoma, skin cancer. We're going to have to operate again to see whether it's spread, what stage it's at and go down the appropriate treatment path from there'. I'd never experienced a feeling quite like it. I was frozen, unable to digest the words being spoken to me. I felt helpless and as if the world had come to a halt for a moment. It was like being in a nightmare, except It was real and escaping the situation wasn't as simple as just waking up - because I was already awake. Nothing will ever come close to the internal feeling of being delivered such news where your fate is unknown. When you hear the word 'cancer', it automatically causes you to suspect the worst.

Skipping past the further surgeries and other processes involved, I was blessed to have a lucky escape. My cancer had been removed, but that by no means meant I wouldn't get it again. What I went through was a small glimpse into the reality of what skin cancer sufferer goes through when they're told it's fatal. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It's scary, it's painful, it gives you daily anxiety - it's not worth it for that temporary tan.

Whether sunbeds caused my skin cancer, or previous sun damage had - i'll never know. But what I'm certain of is that sunbeds are extremely damaging to the skin, they can kill and seriously harm you - no one is safe. You could be naturally tanned, free of freckles or moles, but skin cancer will win when it wants to, so do everything in your power to avoid it. Your life is far more important than a tan.

I see people around me, people online referring to them as a mini holiday, and friends using sunbeds - it makes me so sad because just like them, I was once carefree and skin cancer never even entered my thought processes. People are putting themselves at risk and they're completely oblivious. Some are told they have months, weeks to live when they're diagnosed at higher stages of skin cancer - yet still, others are content with risking their health. No matter how healthy you are, you are not an exception.

I miss the sun kissed feeling I was able to healthily enjoy before I ever used a sunbed, but never will I put my health at risk again for the sake of my vanity, and neither should you.

I hope my story makes you think twice before wasting your coins on a sunbed. I got lucky, but that doesn't mean you will be.

Here's the story I read on the plane:


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