By Ashley Burnstad
I have been a sun lover since the age of 13, when my mother could no longer keep me slathered in sunscreen, cover-ups and hats. Once high school started, I spent almost every day in the summer basking in the sun with no sunscreen. I can’t count the number of times I went home after hours in the sun burnt to a crisp, looking like a tomato.
At the age of 15, I discovered tanning beds to supplement my summertime addiction. I went several times a week, often going daily for weeks at a time, burning too many times to count. The shop owner loved to talk about the “benefits” of indoor tanning. I wanted to believe her, but my gut told me that there was no logic to what she was saying – still, I kept going for the sake of vanity.
I continued to tan until the age of 24, when, at the doctor for a regular check-up, my GP recommended I see a dermatologist for a mole check. Not long after that, I found myself in a plastic surgeon’s office having numerous moles biopsied.
He first asked me nonchalant questions about my health and sunburn history, but the look in his eyes changed when I told him how much indoor tanning I had done. When abnormal cells showed up from one mole and I had to have 12 stitches on my back to remove a large amount of tissue, I vowed to never step foot in another tanning bed or have another sunburn in my life.
I try to live without regrets, but the years of tanning and burning is one regret I can’t shake. I can now only rely on my own diligence to catch any skin cancer in early stage. Now at the age of 26, I do daily mole checks on myself and visit the dermatologist and plastic surgeon often for biopsies. When compared to the possibility of having melanoma, all the scars mean nothing.
I understand what it feels like to think you’re invincible, and to be more interested in short-term satisfaction than long-term health and longevity – I was there not long ago. My goal now is to educate as many people as I can about the dangers of indoor and unsafe tanning, with knowledge and real facts.
Ashley Burnstad is a dysplasia survivor, skin cancer advocate and Save Your Skin Foundation committee member.
When abnormal cells showed up from one mole and I had to have 12 stitches on my back to remove a large amount of tissue, I vowed to never step foot in another tanning bed or have another sunburn in my life.