Now 29, Christina was addicted to tanning beds when she was diagnosed with melanoma at age 22. She's now passionate about warning others of the dangers of tanning.
By Christina Iannaccone
Just graduating college, getting engaged, buying a house, starting a new job….life was looking pretty good for me, Christina Nicole Iannaccone, felt like I was sitting on top of the world…or so I thought…
The day started just like any other day for me, but quickly that was turned around by a phone call from my dermatologist. I remember it clearly, as if it were yesterday, “Christina this is your doctor’s office, please call us back immediately regarding you biopsy results”. I listened to it 3 times, and knew the outcome didn’t sound good, so I ignored it and figured they would call back. Sure enough, few hours later, the same number showed up as a missed call on my phone, again, but yet I ignored it and erased it. In my mind avoiding the call meant nothing was wrong, so I went about on my daily routine. Went to the gym, showered, ate lunch, then to the tanning salon for my daily dose of sun…yes, you read that right: I went to the tanning salon after hearing the message. Oh, forgot to mention, yeah, my days always consisted of waking up, gym, shower, tanning salon…sometimes twice a day. Even after the biopsies I continued to go, maybe because of denial, fear or just plain addiction. I admit, I was addicted to tanning…the sun burning my skin, the hot lamps, the sweat dripping down my back…all meant I was getting darker by the minute. However, there was never an end in sight as I always felt I could be darker.
My then-fiancé would yell at me day after day to stop tanning because every time he called or asked where I was my answer was the tanning salon. To not become a regular at one particular salon, I was an “unlimited monthly member” at multiple ones so I could go to one in the morning before work, sometimes during lunch then afterward at night on my way home. If I didn’t go I felt like a part of me failed, so I would run my life according the salon hours, waiting times, etc. The summertime was even worse, as my addiction became obsessive on the weekends where I would wake up go in the morning to the tanning salon, come home, sit outside with baby oil slathered on my skin during “prime time sun time,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., then go back to my nightly session at the salon. It came to a point where my fiancé and I began to argue about my behavior more and more until the point where he threatened to give my picture to local salons and tell them not to allow me to tan there, but I knew he wouldn’t, so I ignored him and continued on day to day with my tanning.
Up until the day I got that phone call, I continued to tan, and yes, I admit it, when I finally did call the doctor back, 3 days later, the first thing I did was go tanning. With those little band-aids still stuck onto my skin from the biopsy, I went tanning, with the baby oil, and remember seeing the raw skin, paper white compared with my dark tan skin. I figured nothing was wrong, I mean skin cancer/malignant melanoma...how was it possible?
That little area of skin has cancer? I have cancer? I walked out of the salon, mind blank, body hot, thinking I am dying…I have cancer! I just went tanning…what the heck was I thinking? Chemo, losing hair, surgery…all those thoughts flashed in my mind, but nothing scared me more than realizing I have to tell my family / friends that I have malignant melanoma from tanning bed / sun bathing.
When I got that phone call from the doctor I remember sitting on the round, glass table in the living room with my fiancé on the sofa. I listened in shock, fear, hatred toward myself, but overall sadness. I didn’t know who to tell, how to tell, so first thing I did was call my mom and cry hysterical that I have cancer…I cried and cried to her, but couldn’t turn my head to tell my fiancé, who was sitting right there on the sofa. He kept asking what, what is wrong? He heard me and yet, I couldn’t tell him...my mother was first to know, and when I hung up with her, I was so angry with myself I screamed at my fiancé like it was his fault that I had malignant melanoma. I don’t know why, but a part of me didn’t want him to deal with this, I felt in my mind he would not love me anymore because I had cancer. However, my mother/father and sisters in my mind “have” to always love me, so telling them first was easiest, as I feared my fiancé would pack up and leave. I wish I thought differently because he was so hurt, and I know now it was wrong on my part, but fear took over my mind and I couldn’t think otherwise.
Later that day I made the necessary phone calls to all the doctors and started to schedule surgeries, tests, appointments, etc. The next few weeks/months were going to be hard, long and painful, but one thing I realized was that my fiancé was there the whole time, by my side, loving and caring for me… just like my mom, dad and sisters.
Me and my nephew. It's blurry, but there's no hiding that orange glow
It took about six surgeries, multiple hospital visits for tests/treatment/appointments, but nothing compares to the lifelong scares I have from my tanning bed addiction. I wear sunscreen every day, don’t use tanning beds anymore and practice safe sun methods, but still suffer from this deadly disease. I fight to this day to conquer melanoma, but know in my mind I am strong and someday will. I don’t want to die from a dumb addiction, but rather live.
Do you tan? Have you in the past? Why or why not?
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