health

How one woman's confronting selfie ended up saving lives.

In April 2015, a 27-year-old woman from Texas in the United States, decided to share an unedited picture of her face.

With a towel on her head, Tawny Willoughby’s nose and cheeks were covered in red, blistering scabs. The sores travelled up to her forehead, with some appearing infected.

It was the kind of image that was simply impossible to scroll past.

The caption read, “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 two year old little boy of my own.”

Willoughby shared that while she was in high school, she would frequently tan, sometimes up to four times a week. She also used tanning beds.

At 21 years old, she had her first skin cancer diagnosis. For the next six years, she saw a dermatologist every six to 12 months, and would have skin cancers removed at each check up.

She wrote,  “Skin cancer is not always moles, only one of mine have been a mole. Get any suspicious, new and growing spot checked out… anything that doesn’t heal, possibly bleeds on and off and crusts…”

LISTEN: The late Emma Betts speaks to Mia Freedman about dying of cancer in your 20s. 

The scabs on her face were a result of a skin cancer treatment called Aldara.

Willoughby’s post was shared more than 100,000 times and attracted thousands of comments. News outlets from all over the world (including us) covered the story, in turn promoting awareness about what skin cancer looks like, and how serious the treatment can be.

As a result of the story, Google searches for ‘skin cancer’ and ‘skin cancer prevention’ saw a record high.

In a study published in the journal of Preventive Medicine this week, it was reported that Willoughby’s post increased those search terms by 162 per cent.

“We conclude,” the study states, “that an ordinary person’s social media post caught the public’s imagination and led to significant increases in public engagement with skin cancer prevention.”

Skin cancer is greatly underreported, and the study found that by raising awareness, it is extremely likely that lives were saved.

And that is how a 27-year-old, with nothing more than an iPhone, used her own experience to help men and women all over the world.

You can listen to the full episode of No Filter with Emma Betts, who passed away in April of this year. 

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