Former Sun Worshipper Sheds Light on Skin Cancer Risks

Tawny Willoughby is a striking 27 year old, with long blonde hair and deep blue eyes. But last week, the southern belle posted some gruesome photos of herself online. The photos show a close-up of Tawny’s face, covered in oozing blisters and crimson scabs. The culprit? A cream-based treatment for skin cancer.

This wasn’t Tawny’s first case of skin cancer. Since turning 21, Tawny has faced six diagnoses: five for basal cell carcinoma and one for squamous cell carcinoma. Each case has necessitated painful procedures to remove the cancer, including surgical excision, liquid nitrogen freezing, curettage, and electrodessication.

Tawny’s battle against skin cancer can be traced back to her teens. At that time, she began to tan 4 – 5 days a week in a tanning bed. In fact, like several friends, she had her own personal tanning bed at home! Other days, Tawny soaked in the Alabama sun outdoors. In her words, “Everyone tanned … I didn’t really even think about the future or skin cancer at the time.”

In reality, however, UV exposure from tanning beds or sunlight is the leading cause of skin cancer—particularly for fair individuals with a family history of melanoma. Such exposure can damage skin cells’ genetic material, leading cells to grow uncontrollably. Indeed, research suggests that tanning bed users are 74% more likely to develop melanoma. Furthermore, sustaining 5+ blistering sunburns in youth can increase non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 68% and melanoma risk by 80%.

It is thus no surprise that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States—the land of the coveted bronze glow. Approximately 3.5 million are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer and 137,000 are diagnosed with melanoma each year. In 2015, these two types of skin cancer are expected to result in 6230 and 9940 deaths, respectively. That equates to 1.8 deaths every hour.

On the bright side, skin cancer is highly preventable. Simply minimizing exposure to UV light could prevent over 3 million cases of skin cancer annually. To do so, dermatologists recommend seeking shade between 10am and 4pm (when your shadow is shorter than you), covering up with tightly woven fabrics, applying broad spectrum sunscreen and lip balm with a 30+ SPF, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Finally, avoid tanning beds and sun lamps, as “more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking”.

Fortunately, people are starting to see the light. In response to Tawny’s viral photo, now shared nearly 70,000 times, people have pledged to “get rid of [my tanning bed]” and to “never tan again”. Tawny is amazed with the results, stating “it makes me really happy to…help someone save their skin and possibly their life.” She adds, “You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people’s mistakes.”x

To learn more about skin cancer, please contact the Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Melanoma Foundation, or our partners Kure It Cancer ResearchOregon Cancer Ski Out, the SAMFund for Young Adult Survivors of Cancer.


Supreme Court says “I Do” to Gay Marriage

In the marble halls of the US Supreme Court, nine justices are deliberating a landmark case, inching closer and closer to the “most anticipated ruling of the year”. The case, known as Obergefell v. Hodges, will determine whether the 14th amendment of the constitution requires states to: 1) license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and 2) recognize such marriages licensed in another state.

The case has the potential to drastically increase gay rights in the United States. Instead of a “patchwork of laws and legal rulings on the issue”, it could legalize same-sex marriages nationwide. Such an outcome would give gay Americans access to the 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and protections provided to married couples. In the words of attorney Dana Nessel, this would “mean equal justice for…millions of families around the country and many millions to come”.

Currently, gay rights activists are largely optimistic about the Supreme Court’s decision (expected in late June). After all, public support for same-sex marriage has jumped incredibly in recent years. A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll last month found that approximately 60% of Americans support same-sex marriage, compared to 30% in 2004. Similarly, the number of states allowing gay marriage has grown steadily from 0 states in 2003 to 37 states (and Washington DC) today.

Recent Supreme Court rulings are also encouraging. In the 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down bans on same-sex sexual activity. The opinion stated that “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code” and that no “legitimate state interest …can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual”. Exactly 10 years later, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to invalidate provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as between a man and woman. The opinion explained “DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles”.

In both major decisions, Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the opinion. Though appointed by President Reagan, Kennedy has become a sort of gay rights champion on the bench. He is widely expected to cast the pivotal swing vote—in favor of gay marriage—in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

But even if the Supreme Court backs gay marriage, “it’s becoming increasingly clear that that’s not the end of the marriage fight”. Some leaders predict that the ruling would “mobilize conservative activist” and provoke “civil disobedience in America like…never seen before”. Furthermore, as in Indiana and Arkansas, states may pass laws allowing businesses (like Christian florists and bakers) to refuse service to gay couples on religious grounds.

The LGBT community also continues to face incredible obstacles outside of the marriage realm. Currently, federal civil rights laws “explicitly protect people from being fired, evicted [etc] on the basis of race, religion, and gender but not sexual orientation or gender identity”. Additionally, some recent victories—such as the lifting of the military ban on openly gay service members—did not apply to transgendered people.

 In light of this lingering discrimination, gay rights activists are now “shifting their attention to passing anti-discrimination measures at the state and federal levels”. They hope to “harness the power of the marriage win to continue moving hearts and minds and making possible the additional legal and political gains [needed] to gain full inclusion”.

Op4G fully supports these efforts—not just because of our friends and family in the LGBT community but because of our belief in the innate dignity of all peoples. If you would like to extend support, please donate to the Human Rights Campaign, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, the National Center for Transgender Equality or our partners, the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center and the Attic Youth Center.