Young woman shares skin cancer selfies to show how glamorous tanning beds aren't
Young mom who used tanning beds since high school sends powerful message on Facebook
Graphic photos posted online by a 27-year-old skin cancer patient show chasing that summer glow could actually destroy your looks.
It could also kill you.
Alabama nurse and new mom Tawny Willoughby started tanning in high school, often up to five times a week.
"I had my own personal tanning bed in my home, and so did a lot of my friends growing up," she told CNN in an interview on Wednesday. "Everyone tanned ... I didn't really even think about the future or skin cancer at the time."
At 21, Willoughby saw a dermatologist for the first time after a friend was diagnosed with melanoma. Sure enough, she too was sick.
Some cancerous skin tissue was removed, but it wasn't a cure.
Over the past six years, she's been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma five times and squamous cell carcinoma once.
Each time she has undergone painful procedures to remove the cancer from her skin — from surgical excision and liquid nitrogen freezing to curettage and electrodessication.
In an attempt to deter others from following in her footsteps, Willoughby posted a graphic photo of her face after a recent skin cancer treatment on Facebook last month.
"If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go!" she wrote in the photo's caption. "This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people's mistakes."
That photo has now been shared more than 65,000 times, racking up thousands of comments and media attention from around the world.
"Thank you for sharing this," wrote one commenter. "I decided not to tan this year and I almost broke and laid in my tanning bed today ... I'm def getting rid of it and never tanning again."
"I didn't lay for 10 months and started back in March.... this for real makes me want to stop again, and for good!" wrote another. "You're beyond brave to post this pic and your story. You're awesome for trying to prevent others from going through what you have. You're a role model, girl!"
Willoughby has been responding to comments and questions on Facebook as news outlets drive more attention her way this week, often to thank people for their support and encourage them to try spray tans as opposed to beds or the sun.
"I debated sharing any of these pictures," she wrote on Facebook. "I truly hoped to change at least one person's view on tanning/skincare/sunscreen by posting my treatment photo, and now I can't believe how many people it has touched... makes me really happy to be able to help someone save their skin and possibly their life."
The wife and mother also made sure to note in her original post that unsightly skin lesions are just one part of what makes her cancer scary.
According to the World Health Organization, ultraviolet radiation-emitting tanning devices like tanning beds are among the most dangerous sources of cancer-causing radiation in the world. Those who use tanning beds before the age of 30 are said to increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, which is deadly, by 75 per cent.
"Don't let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up," she said. "That's my biggest fear now that I have a two-year-old little boy of my own."