by MICHELLE DOUGLAS
I am 39 years old and I was 36 when I was diagnosed with melanoma on my back. I’ll never forget the phone call and the doctor’s voice telling me ‘unfortunately you have malignant melanoma’. At the time I had no further information so really didn’t understand how invasive it was and basically whether I’d live or die. I had two little boys aged 4 months and 19 months so being faced with cancer and my boys growing up without their mum was devastating.
Melanoma claims approximately 1900 lives per year in Australia. We have the highest rates of melanoma incidence in the world and rates are on the rise. It is the most common cancer in 15-44 year olds.
I’ll never know exactly what caused my melanoma. It may have been my childhood holiday sunburns, which every other kid had back in the 1970s. Or it may have been my solarium use in my early 20s. Probably a combination of both given that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation is the major cause of skin cancer.
I’ve never liked the sun for as long as I could remember. In fact I hate the heat and sun so much that I’ve avoided being out in it for the last 10-15 years. I could never have been a sun baker so the idea of a few minutes in a solarium for a tan was very appealing for someone like me. I used them irregularly in my early-mid 20s at a time when there was no readily available information on the dangers of solarium use. I was shocked when I heard the most recent evidence that shows solarium use before the age of 35 boosts the risk of melanoma by 87%!
The NSW government has passed a law banning solariums from 2014 and many other states are considering following. Solariums can omit UV levels that are up the 6 times higher than the midday sun and are now placed in the same category as asbestos and cigarettes as far as carcinogenics.
It seems so silly to me now and I wish I could turn back the clock and never have used them. Back then I did see being tanned as being more beautiful. That’s the way it just was. – people thought tanned skin looked healthy. But the truth is that there is nothing healthy about a tan. Nowadays I’m quite happy being pale. I’m always wearing a big hat and summer scarf and I’m extra cautious in the sun during the middle of the day when the UV rays are most intense.