An Alabama woman posted a selfie on social media in an attempt to warn people about an ongoing trend. It nearly ended her life, but she hopes that her story will help save others from making the same mistake.
Tawny Willoughby, a self-proclaimed “tanning addict,” posted a horrifying photo of herself on social media, according to ITV News. After being diagnosed with skin cancer when she was just 21 years old, she faced various painful treatments for years. When the photo in question was taken, she was undergoing a cancer treatment that left her with painful wounds and burns covering most of her face.
Tawny hoped the distressing sight would serve as a warning to others about the dangers that come along with tanning beds. After regularly using tanning beds, sometimes up to four times a week, she wanted others to learn from her mistake. So, she posted the image below to help persuade avid tanning bed users to rid themselves of the cancer-causing habit.
“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,” she wrote alongside the horrifying picture as she posted it to Facebook. “This treatment was done using a cream called Aldara (imiquimod). I’ve also had the following treatments: Curettage and Electrodessication, Cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen), Surgical Excision and Photodynamic Therapy (PDT).”
After what she’s had to endure, her advice is simple: Don’t Tan. “Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it. 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,” she wrote.
In response to questions and concerns from social media users, Tawny added, “I did the bulk of my tanning in high school. I sometimes laid up to 4 times a week (I laid frequently because my tan faded very fast). I never laid in the tanning bed and in the sun in the same day. I never laid in the tanning bed twice in one day.”
Explaining that she had her first skin cancer diagnosis at 21, which was six years prior to her post, she continued, “I’ve had basal cell carcinoma 5 times and squamous cell carcinoma once (excluding my face). I go to the dermatologist every 6-12 months and usually have a skin cancer removed at each checkup. I’m very thankful to not have had melanoma!”
Wanting to inform others further, Tawny continued, “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. The sooner you find it the less likely it will leave a disfiguring scar or grow deep enough to metastasize. Melanoma kills, nonmelanoma-disfigures (and can also kill). Don’t be a statistic!”
As with anything posted on social media, Tawny faced some critics. In response, she said, “I see a lot of comments regarding the frequency of my tanning. Please do not allow that to help you justify your tanning. I laid up to four times a week. Yes, that is excessive. Keep in mind that was not my typical frequency. I did that when I had an event coming up which I wanted to be tan for (homecoming, prom, vacation…). Most of the time I tanned 1-2 times per week. There were weeks I didn’t tan at all.”
The “intention of the post is to help people,” Tawny explained, adding, “Please do not belittle me or my message to justify your own actions.” And, she’s not backing down, even though she faced a lot of judgment. After seeing the popularity of her post, she began a website called Tawny Skin, which is rather ironic since her name literally means “of an orange-brown or yellowish-brown color” or, in other words, a shade of “tan.” On Tawny Skin, she chronicled her ongoing battle with skin cancer and the treatments she’s received.
We all know that too much exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer, yet many people excuse and even justify being in the sun for the purpose of “tanning.” Teen girls and young women are especially willing to dismiss the risk, all for a sunkissed glow. Many face the consequences years later, but it’s better to take Tawny Willoughby’s advice and protect yourself. We only have one life, we shouldn’t knowingly risk shortening it for vanity. What makes you feel beautiful today could literally leave you disfigured or even dead tomorrow. It’s simply not worth it. Love the skin you’re in — and take care of it.