Texas tanning bed law: A melanoma survivor's take

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Cheri with daughters.JPG"I still do my spray tans. I still use my creams. I still go in the sun. Only I now wear sunscreen, hats, glasses -- everything I'm supposed to do," says Cheri Huber. "I didn't quit living after melanoma."

Like many women, Huber enjoys being tan. During the summer she was always lying out by the pool or on the beach. In the winter, she used a tanning bed.

Huber was 15 years old when she first used a tanning bed. "I probably went to the tanning salon three times a week," she says.  

As she got older, she and her mother bought their own tanning bed after realizing they could save money this way.

Huber's melanoma diagnosis

In 2008, when Huber turned 35, she was due for a baseline mammogram. She decided to get a full-body checkup and went to the dermatologist as well.

"My dermatologist was not very happy when I told her how much I tanned, and that I even owned my own tanning bed," Huber recalls. 

During the exam, the dermatologist noticed a scab on Huber's shin. "I don't really remember when it first showed up," she told her dermatologist. "I just assumed I cut myself shaving and kept irritating it."

The dermatologist removed it and sent it off for tests. Two weeks later, Huber was diagnosed with melanoma.

Her first reaction was "Okay, so what's melanoma?" She quickly learned how serious it was. 

Within days, Huber saw a doctor at MD Anderson and underwent surgery on her leg. Scans showed that it had spread and become stage 3.

After a second surgery was performed due to recurrence in her pelvis, she underwent radiation therapy to reduce the risk of melanoma returning in the same region. On September 11, 2008, Huber rang the bell at MD Anderson to mark the end of her radiation treatment, and she's been free of melanoma since then.

New Texas tanning bed law: Reducing melanoma in youth 
Fast forward five years to 2013. Starting on Sept. 1, a new Texas law will require that customers of tanning bed salons are at least 18 years old. Previously, teens between 16 1/2 and 18 could use tanning beds with a parent's written consent. Leaders of MD Anderson's Melanoma Moon Shot worked with a broad coalition of groups supporting the legislation to provide lawmakers with information about UV light exposure and the link between indoor tanning and melanoma. 

A strong supporter of the law, Huber believes it's important to make sure teenagers are aware of the risks associated with tanning beds. "Hopefully, it will make kids think, 'Maybe there's a reason I'm not supposed to use a tanning bed,' and they'll learn more about melanoma and the risks involved," she says.

Like Huber, MD Anderson experts predict that the new law may help reduce the number of Texans diagnosed with melanoma over time. Young adults stand to benefit the most. That's because:

  • Starting indoor tanning before the age of 18 increases melanoma risk by 85%.
  • The average 17-year-old girl in the United States tans about 25 times a year, and the risk of melanoma increases with more tanning.
Raising melanoma awareness for future generations
Huber has become a big advocate for melanoma prevention since her diagnosis. She holds a fundraiser every other year. Last year, she raised $65,000 in her community.

But the biggest advocates in her family might be her two daughters.

"My girls (ages 10 and 5) are the first ones to remind everyone to wear sunscreen when we leave the house," Huber says with a smile.

But Huber hopes her children aren't the only ones concerned with sun safety and skin protection.

"When I was growing up, I don't think I ever heard the word 'melanoma,'" she says. "But today, kids are getting diagnosed with it at younger and younger ages."

Huber hopes teenagers will become more aware of melanoma and realize that it's more than just a skin disease, that it's what she calls "a killing cancer."

By protecting youth from the dangers of tanning, the new law can help do just that.

Watch Cheri Huber discuss her melanoma diagnosis and the new tanning bed law:

How to have the tanning bed talk with your kids
Q&A: Focus on skin melanoma
Melanoma Moon Shot

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