A SUNBED addict who has been diagnosed with skin cancer joked "at least I'll look good in my coffin" when her family used to warn her of the dangers.
Lisa McConnell, 37, from Tynemouth, Newcastle, first started using tanning beds when she was 18 to prepare for nights out and holidays.
But after almost 20 years of regular use, Lisa has now been diagnosed with skin cancer and shared harrowing photos of the wounds on her chest and the hair she has lost as a result of her chemotherapy treatment.
The housing association worker said: "I used them for best part of 20 years on a very regular basis. Throughout the summer I’d be going on them pretty much every week.
"I’d usually do a few sessions throughout the week and then have one on the day I was going out, just to get the glow.
"I felt better with a tan, so even before I’d go on holiday, I’d use the sunbed a few times to get a base tan."
As well as going to her local high street tanning salon, Lisa would also use sunbeds at her friends' homes for the maximum time of nine minutes – but would sometimes even push it to 12.
The tanning addict admits she was attracted to sunbeds because they were cheaper than spray tans and temporary beauty products and would often laugh off her friends and family's concern.
She added: "Most recently I went to a local salon and it was 90 minutes for £12 so it was obviously cheaper than a spray tan.
"At the time I thought it was incredibly cheap, but now I realise it was basically just a cut-price way to get skin cancer."
Family would say to me ‘Lisa, you’re not a normal colour, you’re far too dark’ but to me it was a case of the darker the better. What I didn’t think about was that the darker I was, the more damage I was doing to my skin…
Lisa was a teenager in the late 90s when she first got hooked on sunbeds and joked that "nobody worried about it then."
She added: "Even when there were stories of people getting skin cancer, I always thought it wouldn’t be me."
And even friends and family's increasing concern wasn't enough to swear her off the sunbeds.
She continued: "Family would say to me ‘Lisa, you’re not a normal colour, you’re far too dark’ but to me it was a case of the darker the better.
"That’s how I felt. What I didn’t think about was that the darker I was, the more damage I was doing to my skin.
“They’d say ‘Lisa, you’ll end up getting cancer’ but that’s when I’d joke about looking good at my funeral, I just never took it seriously.”
Dying For A Tan
There are an estimated 7,000 tanning salons in Britain, with some offering sessions from as little as 50p a minute.
Kids as young as EIGHT are using sunbeds, with seemingly little understanding they are playing Russian Roulette with their health.
According to Cancer Research UK, Melanoma skin cancer risk is 16-25 per cent higher in people who have used a sunbed (at any age), compared to people who have never used sunbeds.
This is because sunbeds pelt the skin with such strong UV rays which increase the risk of developing malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer.
Just 20 minutes on one is comparable to four hours in the sun – with many stronger than Mediterranean rays at midday.
In many cases the damage is invisible until it’s too late, as it can take up to 20 years to become apparent.
Around 16,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases are diagnosed in the UK every year – that's 44 every day.
There are around 2,300 melanoma skin cancer deaths annually – that's more than six every day.
It’s part of the reason the World Health Organisation has deemed sunbeds are as dangerous as smoking.
This is why Fabulous says it is time to stop Dying For A Tan.
Three years ago, Lisa finally began taking her loved ones' concern seriously and stopped using sunbeds altogether.
However in September 2018, she developed two raised freckles on her chest which were a different colour than normal and increasingly sore.
She said: "They weren’t typical of the skin cancer photos you see, where they’re dark and patchy, they were just a bit redder and sore all the time.
"When I dried myself after a shower I couldn’t rub my chest dry, I had to pat it, because they were so tender."
Despite telling her GP that she has been a regular sunbed user, Lisa was prescribed steroid cream for suspected psoriasis.
After Christmas, Lisa registered with a different GP near her new home for a second opinion.
She recalled: "One of my doctors works at the Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary in the skin unit so I saw her and as soon as she looked at the freckles she said, ‘I think you’ve got skin cancer’.
"She told me not to be alarmed, but it’s hard not to be when you hear the C word.”
A four punch biopsy of the freckles – which left her with holes in her chest needing to be stitched up – revealed that Lisa had Bowen’s Disease and actinic keratosis – an early non melanoma skin cancer and sun damage.
Shortly after, Lisa received treatment at Newcastle RVI and has just finished a four-week course of chemotherapy cream, Efudix.
She said: "I was warned by my consultant how horrendous it would be, that my skin would get incredibly sore because it attacks the cancerous cells and scorches the skin.
"But I’m one of the lucky ones because I was just applying it to a few areas, whereas some people have to use it on their whole face which is far worse."
However, Lisa lost her hair as part of the treatment – something she struggled to come to terms with.
She added: "What I wasn’t prepared for was the hair loss. I was in the shower one day and ran my hand through my hair and it just started coming out in clumps.
"When I spoke to the pharmacist she said it was the nature of the chemo drug, and there is a risk of it being absorbed into the blood stream."
Since finishing her treatment, Lisa continues to be more vigilant about protecting her skin and will return for a check-up in November.
“I know I have to keep a close check on myself and be careful in the sun," she continued.
"I’m about to go away on holiday and it will be the first one where I’ve not spent a week lying in the sun from sun up to sun down.
"That was the kind of holiday I loved, soaking up the sun by the beach, but not anymore.”
Unsurprisingly, Lisa wishes she never got hooked on sunbeds and added: "Then the worry of the last few months could have been avoided.
"Bowen’s Disease can take decades to appear so I don’t know exactly what the lasting damage will be for me, but now I’m older and wiser and would do anything to stop someone else going through this."
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