Lisa Pace had been a basketball player in her high school and college days, and being photographed in her pale, light freckled skin didn’t do much for her self-esteem. She hated it, and using her friend’s tanning bed, her self-tanning journey began in high school. In the year 2000, at the age of 23, she was diagnosed with her first melanoma. After that surgery, 85 more followed, and now at 43, she wishes she could have avoided that first tan at the age of 17.
“If I could go back and talk to my 17-year-old self, I would tell her that skin cancer is avoidable,” she said to Today . “I’d say, ‘Don’t get in that tanning bed’. Wear sunscreen. Wear protective clothing. People are going to love you for what you look like on the inside, not on the outside.”
Fueled by public approval
According to Pace, she became “addicted” to tanning in her college days when she played basketball at Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond. The basketball players were regularly pictured and recorded, and she wasn’t always feeling confident in her skin. She didn’t like having her pictures published. She began to tan more aggressively than before, and receiving public approval of her new look made her spiral into a full-blown addiction.
“I’ve always been self-conscious of being light skinned with freckles and red hair,” Pace recalled “I started tanning every day, or every other day. It was addictive. People would say, ‘You look so good, you look tan,’ and it just encouraged me.”
She hadn’t been deterred by the first melanoma
Pace had been so great at B.ball that at the age of 23, she got her first job as a basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State University. Following a full-body checkup she received around that time, a dermatologist called to inform her that the spots on her leg were melanomas.
“I blew it off for weeks,” admitted Pace. “They kept calling me and eventually, they said: ‘You need to get in here now.’
The surgery left her incapacitated and unable to walk without aids. A few months later, after she regained complete motor control, she went straight back to self-tanning, using the tanning beds again.
She had a change of her heart when another melanoma was discovered on her face within a year of the first surgery. After the removal of the second one, she decided that tanning had caused her enough pain, hurting her more than it was helping her.
“It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. This whole time I had been worried about how I looked, and now I have a huge scar on my face,” Pace said. “It was a huge chunk out of my face.”
She stopped using the tanning beds, but it was already too late. By the time she reached her mid-30s, she had 48 more surgeries, making a round figure of 50. She was undergoing quarterly surgeries to remove the melanomas appearing all over her body. Painful surgeries that left her covered in scars and doused in pain.
The spots just continued to appear.
As her condition progressively worsened, Pace had to receive 25 more surgeries in the following years.
“By this point, I started finding the spots myself … I had a high success rate of spotting them, I’d get it right about eight out of 10 times,” she said. “They were all over my arms, legs, back, chest, face and my nose. It was hard to find a time to go to the doctor, to get the biopsies and the surgeries. It was stressful … I was going (to the doctor) nearly every day.”
At the age of 43 and having undergone 86 surgeries in total, Pace now works hard to educate every young woman out there on body positivity. Nothing beats loving your own skin. Exposing your body to UV rays to get a darker complexion isn’t worth anything at all. Pace has incorporated sunscreen into her daily routine, and she “wouldn’t go outside without it”. She doesn’t spend a lot of time outside anymore, and she always dresses to cover her scars. Despite this, she runs a strong awareness campaign online to keep others from walking into the trauma she knows all too well.
“I would much rather be pale, white, covered in freckles than to have all of the scars that I have. You’re beautiful to those who matter most without a tan,” Pace said in encouragement to young ladies (and even guys) all around the world.
Melanomas and self-tanning
Melanomas are cancers that begin in the melanocytes, skin cells that produce the skin pigmentation melanin . It is believed to be caused by a number of environmental and genetic factors, but scientists strongly believe that high exposure to Ultraviolet rays is the leading cause of melanoma . Melanomas usually present as unevenly colored asymmetrical moles on the skin, usually dark shades of brown, pink, or red. They also appear as painful sores that do not heal, and the moles may progressively change in shape and size, a symptom known as evolution .
According to the Melanoma Research Alliance, for people between the ages of 15-29, melanoma is the 3rd most diagnosed cancer for males and 4th most diagnosed for females .
A tanning bed works by emitting intense ultraviolet rays that stimulate the melanocytes to release the pigment melanin, thereby causing the skin to darken in complexion . 20 minutes of exposure in a tanning bed has been estimated to be equal to about 4 hours of exposure under the mid-day summer sun . Contrary to general beliefs, tanning beds don’t offer a safer alternative to the natural summer sun. If anything, they may be more harmful due to the higher intensity of the UV rays they emit.
Research by the American Academy of Dermatology suggests a person is 59% more likely to develop skin cancers if they use a tanning bed before the age of 35, and this percentage increases with frequent use .
“I’ve never seen anyone with no genetic disorder, who had the number of skin cancers that Lisa had at her age,” said Dr. Arielle Kauvar, the founding director of New York Laser & Skin Care. “The most important thing about Lisa’s story is that in her case, this was likely a result of indoor tanning. Everyone has a risk of skin cancer. All you need is one melanoma to kill you.”
- Frank, Gabrielle. At 43, this woman has had 86 skin cancer surgeries. Today. https://www.today.com/health/skin-cancer-woman-was-diagnosed-her-first-melanoma-23-t127232. 01-05-18
- National Cancer Institute. What Does Melanoma Look Like? Cancer. https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/melanoma-photos. 13-10-18
- Staff writer. Melanoma. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20374884. 21-05-19
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Melanoma Symptoms. Cancer Center. https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/melanoma/symptoms.
- Melanoma Research Alliance. Melanoma statistics. Cure Melanoma. https://www.curemelanoma.org/about-melanoma/melanoma-statistics-2/
- Cespedes, Andrea. How do tanning beds work? Live Strong. https://www.livestrong.com/article/38197-tanning-beds-work/
- Butterly, Amelia. Newsbeat guide to… sunbeds and tanning. BBC UK. http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/21057439/newsbeat-guide-to-sunbeds-and-tanning. 17-01-13
- American Academy of Dermatology. Indoor tanning. AAD. https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care.
- Pace, Lisa. Facebook. https://web.facebook.com/lisa.pace.98/about?lst=100013848484405%3A100000413392162%3A1559244858
- Yamaguchi & Hearing. Melanocytes and Their Diseases. PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3996377/. May 2014.
- Website. New York Laser & Skin Care. http://www.nylaserskincare.com/
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