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Guest Post: A Call to Action from a Skin Cancer Survivor

Megan Ramey

NOTE: This post by Megan Ramey first appeared July 29 on Cancer Candor, a blog from Chris Hanson, President, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). It appeared on the same day that the US Surgeon General released a call to action to prevent skin cancer in which he called the disease a major public health problem. “I wanted impress upon my readers why it is so important that our nation has an action plan for dealing with this devastating cancer by sharing Megan’s powerful story,” Mr. Hanson said.

My name is Megan Ramey and I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in 2010, just weeks before my 21st birthday. With blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin I am the walking definition of someone who should take extra precautions when it comes to UV exposure. Four years post diagnosis I look back on the choices I made and feel a large amount of regret for not being cautious enough. Melanoma is a unique cancer in that most cases directly results from our behavior. We can choose to protect ourselves in the sun and we can choose to stay away from tanning beds. I admit I did not take the risks seriously.

Growing up in Minnesota my family and I cherished our beautiful summers.  Whether we were at the lake or by my family pool we were outside from sun up to sun down. I used sunscreen here and there but not nearly enough to prevent several painful sunburns over the years. When I reached high school, I began using tanning beds before school dances, vacations and figure skating competitions. I thought that tanning beds were a safer way to obtain a tan. In college, going to the tanning salon was a common activity amongst my friends. Being tan was considered attractive.  Everyone was doing it. When you are young, you don’t think about the consequences of your actions and how they can impact your future. Had I been better educated about skin cancer (specifically melanoma) and taken the warnings seriously, my life could very well be entirely different from what is today.

When I was first diagnosed with melanoma, the summer between my junior and senior year of college became a whirlwind of scans, surgeries, oncology visits and one month of high dose immune building chemotherapy (interferon). Luckily all scans since my initial diagnosis have come back NED (or no evidence of disease), meaning I have no active cancer cells to worry about at the moment. Melanoma is tricky. Even if you are lucky enough to be labeled NED, it could reoccur at any moment. Knowing this, I made a choice to complete two years of low dose interferon in hopes that the medication will continue to help my immune system ward off active melanoma cells. Currently, I live my life in 6 month increments never knowing when the next scan will show trouble. A recurrence of melanoma is never far from my mind, and one of my biggest fears. My life at 25 is unlike anything that I could have imagined.

Melanoma awareness is an important part of my life. I am part of a local non-profit group called Melanoma Awareness Minnesota. This group is active in the community, participating in health fairs, expos and presenting to local high school students the dangers of melanoma. I recently had the opportunity to work with the ACS CAN here in Minnesota to pass the tanning legislation prohibiting minors from using commercial tanning beds. I enjoy sharing my story with anyone who will listen. When it comes to melanoma, education is key! Knowledge saves lives. The CDC and Surgeon General released today a call to action on skin cancer. Their support and assistance sends a strong message to the general public about just how dangerous and prevalent skin cancer can be. The numbers are staggering; millions of people every year are being diagnosed with melanoma. Something needs to change and I think this call to action is going to be a significant step in the right direction!

Megan Ramey is a courageous ACS CAN volunteer from Minnesota. At age 21, after several years of indoor tanning, Megan was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Megan bravely shares her story with teens with the hope that they will avoid indoor tanning salons and protect their skin from ultraviolet (UV) exposure. 

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Minnesota Becomes Eighth State to Ban Indoor Tanning for Teens

MN State Capitol - teen tanning ban

The months-long debate over teen tanning in Minnesota ended on May 23 when Governor Mark Dayton signed HF2402 into law. Effective August 1, 2014:

– No one under the age of 18 may use a commercial indoor tanning facility in Minnesota.

– All tanning facilities must prominently display a sign to that effect.

– Tanning facility owners/operators who violate the law are subject to a misdemeanor penalty as determined by a judge.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association commended the approval of the bill in Consumer Affairs, pointing out that “dermatologists contend the risk for developing melanoma increases by 59% in people who use indoor tanning devices, and the risks increase with each subsequent use.”

In March, Coolibar (based in Minneapolis, MN) visited the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul for a day of lobbying on behalf of the bill then known as the Minnesota Skin Cancer Prevention Act (SF 1901). This effort was in conjunction with the American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network.

Here is an updated list of US states that either prohibit indoor tanning or are considering it:

  • Louisiana – just passed a law banning the use of tanning beds by anyone under 18
  • Pennsylvania – Just passed a law prohibiting tanning bed use by anyone under 16
  • Indiana – Just passed a law banning the use of tanning beds for those 16 & under
  • Nebraska – Prohibits tanning bed use by anyone under 16
  • Washington – Bans the use of tanning beds for anyone under 18
  • California – Bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Illinois – Bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Nevada – Bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Texas – Bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Oregon – Bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Connecticut – Bans tanning bed use for those under 17
  • New Jersey – Bans tanning bed use for those under 17
  • Vermont – Bans tanning bed use for those under 17
  • Wisconsin – Bans tanning bed use for those under 16
  • Hawaii – Bill recently passed in state legislature would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 18
  • Missouri – Law would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 17

About 15 other US states have some form of restriction, such as a parental consent requirement, for teens using indoor tanning equipment.

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Events Inside Coolibar

Coolibar, American Cancer Society Lobby at Capitol for Teen Indoor Tanning Ban

Minnesota State Capitol

As state legislators across the US consider bills that would regulate or ban the use of indoor tanning beds by minors, Coolibar recently attended Tan-Free Teens Day in support of the Minnesota Skin Cancer Prevention Act (SF 1901) at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. The lobbying effort was part of a national initiative spearheaded by the American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network (ACS-CAN), the nation’s leading cancer advocacy organization.

Loren Adams, Coolibar: Sen. Ron Latz, DFL MN Dist 46

Volunteers from the Twin Cities and outstate communities gathered March 5 for a breakfast presentation where ACS-CAN staff from Minnesota and Washington, DC outlined the provisions of the bill and the legislative process. In the afternoon, staff and volunteers visited with Minnesota state senators and representatives at the Capitol, educCoolibar at Tan Free Teens Dayating and advocating for passage of SF 1901.

According to ACS-CAN, more than 100 volunteers had personal conversations with some 150 lawmakers, or 75% of those voting on the bill. The same day, the bill was debated in the Minnesota Senate Health Committee, where it passed easily.

Deb Thoman, MD - ACS Rebecca Thoman, MD & Friend

 

The bill has since passed through the Minnesota House and an additional hearing in the Senate. It will likely be bundled with other healthcare-related bills and then voted on by the entire Senate, according to Rebecca Thoman, M.D. of the American Cancer Society.

Who is Considering Measures for Tan-Free Teens?

All of this takes place as two states recently passed legislation restricting indoor tanning for minors. At least five other states are considering similar bills in their legislatures:

  • Hawaii – Law would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 18
  • Louisiana – Law would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 17
  • Missouri – Law would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 17
  • Pennsylvania – Law would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 16
  • Nebraska – Law would prohibit tanning bed use by anyone under 16

The following U.S. states currently ban indoor tanning for minors:

  • Indiana – Just passed a law banning the use of tanning beds for those 16 & under
  • Washington – Just passed a law banning the use of tanning beds for those 17 & under
  • California – bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Illinois – bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Nevada – bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Texas – bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Oregon – bans tanning bed use for anyone under 18
  • Connecticut – bans tanning bed use for those under 17
  • New Jersey – bans tanning bed use for those under 17
  • Vermont – bans tanning bed use for those under 17
  • Wisconsin – bans tanning bed use for those under 16

Why Support the Ban?

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the the World Health Organization (WHO), “Policymakers should consider enacting measures, such as prohibiting minors and discouraging young adults from using indoor tanning facilities, to protect the general population from possible additional risk for melanoma.” And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people who begin tanning before age 35 have a 59% higher risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

In 2009, the WHO issued a warning that labeled ultraviolet rays from tanning beds a Class 1 carcinogen. Shortly afterward, Brazil became the first country to ban the use of indoor tanning equipment altogether. It is widely banned for anyone under 18 across Europe and in parts of Canada; about 15 other US states have some form of restriction, such as a parental consent requirement, for teens using indoor tanning equipment.

For information on cancer lobbying efforts in your state visit the events page at ACS-CAN.

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