We were addicted to sunbeds – but our vanity may mean we won’t see our kids grow up – The Sun

ANTHEA SMITH wishes that this picture of her blackened, bloody ear could be posted on the door of each and every tanning shop in Britain – so women could see the real consequences of sunbeds. 

For the mum-of-two's sunbed habit has resulted in her having her cancerous ear amputated, and she has just learnt doctors have found growths on her liver and lungs. 

"I don't know how long I've got left," she tells Sun Online in a tearful interview. "I want to live to see my boys grow up and get married – but I don't know if I will.

"And that's all because I wanted a tan."

Shockingly, 16,000 new melanoma cases are diagnosed in the UK every year – that's 44 a day.

New research shows that rates of melanoma – the deadliest kind of skin cancer – have risen by 45 per cent in the past decade.

This week Fabulous has launched its Dying For A Tan campaign, to raise awareness of the devastating impact sunbeds can have on users’ health.

Using a sunbed under the age of 35 means your risk of developing melanoma skin cancer increases by up to 87 per cent, as younger skin is more susceptible to cell damage, which can trigger the growth of tumours.

Here, three mums reveal how sunbeds have left them battling cancer – and tormented by the idea their quest for a golden glow means they might not see their little ones grow up.

'You're brought up to think a tan is healthy'

Council worker Anthea, 43, began using sunbeds when she was just 14 and her mum rented one for the summer.

"Everyone wanted to be brown. Every salon had a sunbed and if we were going on holiday, my mum would hire a sunbed at home – I'd go on that every single day.

"You're brought up to believe that a tan is healthy, whereas it's the total opposite to that really," 

Her sunbed habit had continued and she was a 40-year-old mum to two boys when she noticed a red lump on her ear – which doctors initially dismissed as a wart.

But the lump started to grow, so she went back and insisted they take a second look.

Alana was initially referred to a dermatologist by her confused GP, and given some cream to try and treat it. 

But from the moment she put it on, everything changed.

The small bump began spreading like wildfire, and soon, Anthea's entire ear was covered in dark black sores.

The blackened wounds would bleed every night, and Anthea was so embarrassed she had an asymmetric haircut to hide it.

'I felt like an alien' 

The mum-of-two, from Wigan, was eventually referred to a plastic surgeon, who took a biopsy and gave her the devastating news that she had stage 3c melanoma – an aggressive form of skin cancer – and that she would need to have her entire ear removed.  

Anthea underwent two long operations and 32 gruelling radiotherapy sessions before being fitted with a prosthetic ear.

After the first procedure, Anthea felt like an 'alien' as she was left with a hole in her head where her ear should be.

She was devastated to have lost her hearing in that ear, as she hadn’t realised she’d no longer be able to hear after the surgery. 

Symptoms of melanoma

The most common sign of melanoma is a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed. Look out for a mole which changes progressively in shape, size and/or colour.

The ABCDE checklist should help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:

  • Asymmetrical – melanomas have 2 very different halves and are an irregular shape
  • Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border
  • Colours – melanomas will be a mix of 2 or more colours
  • Diameter – most melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter
  • Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma

Source: NHS

'I hate the impact it's had on my sons'

Despite undergoing surgery and radiotherapy since her initial diagnosis in 2015, Anthea was told this week that the cancer has spread and she has lesions on her liver and lung.

She now lives with permanent balance problems, numbness in her face and tinnitus. 

Anthea is calling for sunbeds to be banned altogether in the UK. A survey this summer revealed that three-quarters of dermatologists agree that they should be banned. 

"My husband and my two sons are my whole world, they really are. I get upset about the impact that this has had.

I can be strong talking about me, but not talking about the impact on them," she says.

'I want my ear on every sunbed shop door'

"With or without cancer, none of us know how long we've got to live, but when you're given a diagnosis of something very sneaky and aggressive, you do what you can to find that balance.

"As far as I am concerned, sunbeds need to be banned. Mexico and Australia already have – and they've seen a drastic decrease in skin cancer cases.

"While in treatment I've seen people having their noses amputated as a result of skin cancer – and I know of other women who have lost their ears, toes and fingers.

"People wrongly assume that skin cancer gets cut out and it's gone. I don't know how long I've got to live – it really is scary.

"If I could have a picture of my ear on the door of every sun bed shop – like the cancer warnings on cigarettes – I would.

"But what I really want is to get them banned all together."

Join Anthea's petition to ban sunbeds here.

'I went to the sunbed shop straight after I gave birth'

Mum Jenni Townsend, 28, had also been hooked on sunbeds since her teens – first using the dangerous tanning devices aged 12 – and would top up her tan every day at the height of her obsession.

Jenni, who grew up in Liverpool, first got a taste for tanning salons as a 12-year-old schoolgirl, and told her family the reason she was red-faced afterwards was from going running.

She said: "The older girls had tans and I was desperate to be just like them.

"I remember being worried the first time I went and I thought they might stop us, but no one ever asked how old we were.

"I'd go in every day on my way home from school and, even if I burned and my skin was red raw, I'd keep on going back.

"My parents told me to stop, but I'd hide it from them.

"I came back from hospital after giving birth to my daughter Stella and the first thing I did was go to the sunbed salon. I was desperate to get back on them and feel the warmth on my skin – that's how addicted I was."

'Hearing the word 'cancer makes me numb'

Ironically, she credits having a spray tan with saving her life after a beautician spotted an unusual-looking mole on her right leg during a spray home tanning session in 2013 and told her to get it checked out.

Even this didn’t halt barista Jenni's sunbed addiction, but she did eventually  see a dermatologist who revealed she had skin cancer.

In order to save her life, Jenni was forced to have a 'chunk' taken out of her leg which has left her too self-conscious to wear dresses.

She said: "When I got the results back, it was a melanoma stage one which meant it was in the early stages."

“I’ll never forget the day when they told me and the first thing I asked them was ‘am I going to die?’ and they couldn’t tell me.

“I had to tell my family that I didn’t know if I was going to die, and I had two young children.

"I ended up having four operations in two-and-a-half years – three on my leg and one for another mole on my stomach.”

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.

After her traumatic experience,  Jenni – who is a single mum to Joe, 11, and Stella, 9 – is urging fellow tanners away from the sunbeds.

"I think in the back of my mind I knew it was bad for me but I loved it so much I just didn't want to give it up.

"Just hearing that word ‘cancer’ makes me feel numb, and it's still hard to take knowing that I probably caused it myself.

"I don't wear dresses anymore, and I haven't put on a bikini since my stomach operation.

"Girls take such a pride in their appearance, but if they see these pictures, hopefully they will realise the damage they're doing.

"I felt great at the time and I thought I looked good, but now I only use spray tan now.

“Why would you risk your life to be tanned?"

'Sun damage is the new smoking'

Mum Sarah Carlick, 45, was diagnosed with deadly skin cancer twice in two years – after a decade of abusing sunbeds.

“The advice then was to use a sunbed to get a base tan before going on holiday,” she tells Sun Online. “We would even hire them and get them dropped off at the house in the summer months.

“At that point we had no idea that they could do any damage.”

In 2012, she noticed a new freckle on her shoulder which had become crusty and raised.

She went to see her GP who immediately referred her to a dermatologist who took a biopsy.

Two weeks later, the results confirmed she had stage one melanoma.

Thankfully, they had caught it early so the disease had not yet spread to the lymph nodes, or other organs.

Sarah had the mole removed, as well as some of the surrounding tissue, but needed no further treatment.

Six years later, Sarah spotted another similar mole on her collar bone and again tests revealed it was melanoma – this time stage three, and had spread to her lymph nodes.

She said: “It didn’t feel real – in a way it still doesn’t.

"I couldn’t get my head around how something as simple as a mole or lump could lead to something as serious as stage three cancer.

“I just cried.”

Now, warning others of the dangers, the 45-year-old  – who is undergoing a medical trial for melanoma treatment – said: "Sun damage is the new smoking.

"I see people sunbathing and want to run up and tell them to stop.

"People are killing themselves and they just don't realise."

For support and advice on coping with a melanoma diagnosis, visit Melanoma UK. 

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