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An unhealthy glow

I am only 30 years old, but I am a survivor of a cancer that I could have avoided — if I had only avoided indoor tanning. What I thought was a "healthy glow" was far from healthy.

I have naturally pale skin, and my parents taught me to use sunscreen at the beach and when outdoors. However, before my senior prom I decided to go indoors for a tan because it was a quick, easy, convenient way to get tanned and, I believed at the time, the way for me to look and feel beautiful in my white prom gown. Before I knew it, I was going to the tanning salon up to seven days a week.

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While I thought I was making myself pretty on the outside, I was really deteriorating on the inside. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is the fourth most common cancer for people ages 15 to 29 and is on the rise. People who use indoor tanning devices before age 35 increase their risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by 59 percent. I was diagnosed at age 20, and it's something that I will live with my entire life.

In 2005, my mom noticed a nickel-sized, dark mole on my back. I disregarded it and kept tanning — after all, young people feel invincible. A couple weeks later, it began to bleed, and I finally went to the dermatologist. A 7-inch scar remains on my back where the doctor removed the melanoma. Since then, I've had dozens more surgeries to remove other moles and precancerous lesions.

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This General Assembly session, the Senate Finance Committee has the opportunity to forward a proposed indoor tanning bill to prohibit minors under age 18 from using tanning facilities. This bill has stalled in this committee for at least three years; all the while I have been testifying in front of Maryland Senate committees since 2006 trying to shed light on the public health importance of this bill.

If I hadn't had the ability to get an indoor tan, I probably never would have developed melanoma, and especially not as early as I did. It's difficult for teenagers to grasp the danger of tanning. It difficult to comprehend that skin cancer is very real cancer. It's much easier to think, "It will never happen to me." That's why it's essential that the Senate Finance Committee spearhead legislation as a leader in these efforts and in skin cancer awareness.

I am now a mother of two young boys. My health and their health is my top priority, as is the case for many other parents. I go to the dermatologist for a skin check every three months and to the oncologist annually for a check-up. Before each visit, I just hope that I can continue going — that this is not going to be my last routine checkup.

I have testified before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, spoken at medical conferences, as well as at Maryland high schools and middle schools about the dangers of indoor tanning. I am a volunteer advocate for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) to help pass this legislation and increase awareness to protect others from indoor tanning. I'm doing everything I can; now I'm calling on our elected legislators to do the same.

The present law requiring parental consent for a minor to use an indoor tanning device is not enough. Studies indicate that parents without adequate knowledge of the severe health risks are giving their consent to their minor children and placing them directly in cancer's doorway. As a parent, I know this is not their intention and that is why this legislation is vital.

The World Health Organization has classified indoor tanning devices as a class I carcinogen, the same as cigarettes. All indoor tanning devices must now have a visible black box warning stating that people younger than age 18 years should not use the devices.

With such clear, concise research that prohibiting young people from using indoor tanning devices can save lives, it's frustrating that Maryland hasn't been able to pass this legislation. Nine states, including our neighbor Delaware, have enacted this legislation. I am one person, one story, but I represent thousands that live in the area with the same story.

Brittany Cicala is a registered nurse and was Miss Maryland 2006. Her email is bmcicala@gmail.com.

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