As a teen in Kentucky, Tawny Willoughby used a tanning bed four to five times a week. The practice felt normal. Now at 27, the young mom has skin cancer cells removed every time she goes to the dermatologist and is at high risk for developing deadly melanoma.
“I had my own personal tanning bed in my home, and so did a lot of my friends growing up… Everyone tanned. I didn’t really even think about the future or skin cancer at the time,” Willoughby told CNN.
Since being diagnosed at only 21, Tawny — who works in Alabama as a nurse — has had basal cell carcinoma five times and squamous cell carcinoma once. She visits the doctor every 12 months, and each time, Willoughby has to undergo treatments to keep it at bay, People reported.
So far, Tawny Willoughby hasn’t been diagnosed with melanoma. Back when she was in nursing school, a classmate was diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer and she went to the dermatologist for the first time.
And that’s when Tawny’s journey began.
In late April, Willoughby posted a post-treatment selfie, which showed in painful and gruesome detail the effect the illness can have. Posted to Facebook, the photo shows the blond beauty’s facecovered in blistery red patches. Tawny also accompanied the photo with an important message for young women desperate to keep a golden brown tan.
“If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Don’t let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up. That’s my biggest fear now that I have a 2-year-old little boy of my own.”
Sadly, these beds are still widely used by high school girls — like Tawny was when she started. CBS News reported the rate is 21 percent, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. About 419,00 new cases each year, and an increased risk of melanoma specifically, have been linked to tanning beds. It’s the most common cancer for young adults aged 15 to 29.
Willoughby hopes her selfie will get teens to start thinking more about the health of their skin than she did.
“I’ve lost count of how many people shared it now and told me I’ve helped them. It’s really cool to hear people say they won’t tan anymore. I’ve had mothers thank me after sharing my pictures with their daughters.”
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]