Even as Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, ACS CAN will keep working year-round, across the country and with both state and federal lawmakers, to advance the public policies we know will reduce the burden of breast cancer.
Guest Post: Kansas Minors No Longer Exposed to the Dangers of Indoor Tanning
The Friday before Memorial Day Weekend is Don't Fry Day a day to encourage sun safety awareness as summer unofficially kicks off. While it's critically important to protect our skin from the sun, indoor tanning devices pose an equal and too often an underestimated risk when it comes to skin cancer. I'm thrilled to report that Kansas is the latest state to take action to protect minors from the dangers of indoor tanning and honored to have Kansas ACS CAN volunteer Tracey Nicodemus share a guest blog on the direct impact indoor tanning has had on her family and her efforts to try and protect others from the same dangers.
In memory of Leigh Ann Twombly (May 24, 1965 - July 14, 2014)
It's been nearly two years since I lost my sister to melanoma. As I sat down to write this piece about Leigh Ann's battle with the disease, I must admit that I have a lump in my throat and I'm fighting back tears. My sister, Leigh Ann, would have turned 51 years old on May 24. The pain of losing her is still intense.
Leigh Ann chose a profession in cosmetology and owned a hair salon in my small hometown of Highland, Kansas. Tanning was a service offered at her salon. Leigh Ann ran her business for more than 20 years. During that time, she was constantly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation both directly and indirectly.
When my family lost Leigh Ann in 2014 to melanoma, we were told by her doctors that it was very likely due to her early years of using a tanning bed. Back then, we had no idea there were dangers associated with using tanning beds. We didn't know UV radiation exposure during childhood or the teen years increased your risk of a skin cancer diagnosis later in life. We weren't aware that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. These statistics are all too familiar now. Did you know that indoor tanning use before the age of 35 increases melanoma risk by 59 percent?
After Leigh Ann's death, I remember making a vow to my son, Samuel, who was 12 years old at the time, that I would do everything I could to help spread awareness about the danger of indoor tanning devices.
This year, I was asked to join forces with ACS CAN. I must say it's an honor to be one of their advocates. In March, the Kansas ACS CAN team rallied together with more than 70 volunteers at the Kansas State Capitol to meet with legislators about protecting children and teens from indoor tanning devices. I met with the lawmakers from my area: Representative Mike Kiegerl and Senator Julia Lynn. Both of them were interested in hearing about Leigh Ann and why I was passionately advocating to pass legislation that would prevent young people under the age of 18 from accessing indoor tanning beds.
After hearing from survivors, volunteers, and health care professionals during hearings, by phone, mail, email, and at events in their hometowns, the indoor tanning bill made it through committee and floor votes in both chambers with bipartisan support. By early May, our bill was on its way to Governor Sam Brownback for his signature.
On May 13, I joined the Kansas ACS CAN team and Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, at the State Capitol for a meeting with Gov. Brownback. As we waited in the governor's office, my nerves were in a knot. Dr. Jensen, whom I adore and have an incredible amount of respect for, started the meeting by explaining the medical dangers associated with UV rays and indoor tanning bed use. I sat quietly and watched Gov. Brownback take in the information.
Then, it was my turn to speak about my sister. As I shared her story, the intense pain of Leigh Ann's loss began to surface and tears started to form. I boldly asked the governor where he stood in support of our bill. I referenced his daughters and granddaughters, and how this piece of legislation was his chance to protect them, and on a larger scale fight back against cancer in the state of Kansas. I presented letters that my 10-year-old daughter and her best friend had written to him. I showed him a picture of Leigh Ann and her family. He looked at Leigh Ann's obituary for a moment, and then looked up and said he would strongly consider our words.
As we walked out of the governor's office I asked Dr. Jensen how he thought the meeting went. At that moment, none of us were sure how this would end. But, what we did know was that we had given it our best shot.
I can't tell you how emotional I was on the day I got the call from ACS CAN letting me know that a few hours after our meeting, Gov. Brownback signed our bill. I immediately called home. I let Leigh Ann's husband and four children know the good news. Our bill to prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed was now Kansas law.
With not a dry eye remaining, at that moment, we felt pride. It was a welcomed new emotion to the pain of losing Leigh Ann.
I want to thank ACS CAN for giving my family and me this opportunity to share our story, help make a difference, and save lives.
Tracey Nicodemus is an ACS CAN volunteer from Olathe, Kansas.