Hear the stories from young women who have been affected by melanoma.

Kasey Shriver

Exercise Science Major at the University of Kansas

I started tanning in high school for special events like vacations and homecoming. Then at age 17, during my junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Several surgeries and a year of chemotherapy made competitive sports much harder that year. I decided to show my strength by helping other young people and parents understand the true danger of tanning, so they would not have to make the same mistake. I’m now involved with First Descents, an amazing program for young adult cancer survivors, and I am taking pre-medical courses in college. My story was featured in the May 2012 issue of Seventeen Magazine.

Miranda Uhing

Studying Early Childhood in Omaha

In May 2015 at age 20, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma. I have always loved the sun. Ever since I can remember, my family has had a pool and loved the outdoors during the summer.

At age 18, I used my first tanning bed and went 3-4 times a week during the winter for only two years (only 6 months total). During the summer, I was outside at least 2-3 hours each day without sunscreen. I noticed a mole on my lower left cheek and a few months later had it removed. The dermatologist removed it right away and it turned out to be a stage 2 melanoma tumor. My summer plans changed from a lifeguarding job to many doctor appointments and surgery. They cut two inches deep and two inches in diameter on my cheek. Four-inch scars cover my neck, face and shoulder from where they took out lymph nodes and another mole. From these incisions the doctors found cancer in the lymph node on my neck, which took my cancer to stage 3.

This experience has been a major lifestyle change – Now I always wearing sunscreen and hats and only eat organic, fresh foods to keep my body healthy on the inside as well. You look at every aspect of your life differently. Even though I didn’t have to go through chemo, I will visit my surgeon once each year and visit the dermatologist twice each year for the rest of my life. When I see people tanning or hear them talking about it, I can’t help but tell them about my experience. It has been hard for me but can be even harder for the people that love you.

To learn more about Miranda’s story and treatments, click here to visit her blog.

Jessica Guerrero

Registered Nurse, Children’s Physicians

Growing up in Minnesota, summers are spent living on the lake. Winters will then lead young women, such as myself, to the tanning bed to keep that glow that seemed to be such a staple in our society. Without being educated on the dangers of UV radiation, I began tanning at the age of 14. After moving to Omaha for school, I took on a part-time job at a tanning salon.

I noticed a mark on my arm, no bigger than the size of a pencil eraser, and I went to get it checked out. I was diagnosed with stage 3B melanoma at age 24. Three weeks later I found out the cancer had spread and would need to begin a year of chemotherapy treatments. I began my fight with melanoma in July 2011 and as of Oct. 2012, I have been clear of this dangerous skin cancer.

Deciding to tan may not affect young women now, but it could be life changing. I remember how wedding dress shopping was difficult with the scars from incisions. Also, melanoma is one of the few cancers – if spread – that could risk the health of your future children. Embrace your natural skin tone with a new way of thinking: Pale is the new tan.

Justina & Joe Koerper

Students at New Mexico State University

Just two years ago, I was addicted to tanning. My motto was: “If you can’t tone it, tan it.”

Then one day, shortly after we were married, I noticed an unusual spot on my husband’s back. It was slightly raised and a little darker than his other freckles. My husband noticed it, too, but it took me nagging him to get it checked out. The dermatologist said she was 100% sure it wasn’t melanoma, but decided to do a biopsy just in case.

A week later my husband, Joe, came home with a look of disbelief. I went to hug and kiss him. He looked me in the eyes and told me his pathology results came back: Stage II Melanoma. Tears flooded my eyes. Stage II means it’s spreading and once it spreads to the lymph nodes, there is a 5 percent survival rate. It wasn’t fair. Joe had spent time in the sun for baseball but always wore sunscreen. If anyone should have skin cancer, it should have been me.

Joe needed surgery as soon as possible. It was the plastic surgeon’s job to cut the skin out and make the scar more aesthetically pleasing. They ended up having to cut 3 inches deep and a 3-inch diameter. The surgeon told me about a teenage girl who developed melanoma above her eyebrow and I felt so sad for her. She just wanted to be tan and feel pretty and now she will carry a scar on her face for the rest of her life.

Joe’s results came back about a week later. Miraculously, the melanoma had not spread to the lymph nodes. We truly believe we had angels looking over us. Now our lives consist of checking each other for suspicious spots.

Since that incident, I have been tan free and am so thankful. I feel more confident and beautiful every day. I think God knew I wouldn’t wake up unless it happened to me. Seeing someone you love more than yourself go through something like this is an eye opener. I will always be grateful that my best friend is still here with me, where he belongs.

Jacie Kuykendall

Glow Air Brush Tanning, New Mexico

My obsession with tanning started when I was 14. I spent summers at the pool as a lifeguard getting as dark as I could. It was fun to have beautiful, tan skin. I toned it down in the winter, but absolutely hated having pale skin, so I would occasionally tan. In the spring, I was at the tanning salon 4-5 days a week getting ready for summer. I even got a part-time job at a tanning salon.

I continued tanning into college up until my dad was diagnosed with stage II melanoma. At first I didn’t think much of it, just that he was having a mole removed. When he came out of surgery, my mom sent me a horrifying picture. He had a softball-sized chunk of skin and tissue removed from the center of his back. It looked like a giant crater. I couldn’t believe it! I had no idea how serious melanoma was or that it can spread and even kill you.

My dad knew how much I loved being tan and told me he didn’t ever want me tanning again. After realizing how scary skin cancer is, I didn’t want to! I found out later the damage had already been done. About a year after my dad was diagnosed, I got my diagnosis at age 23. I had a stage I melanoma on my forehead, right above my eyebrow.

When the plastic surgeon showed me how much skin he would have to take off with the mole, I was terrified. It was about the size of a 50-cent piece. When I saw the scar for the first time after surgery, I nearly passed out. Although I was so worried about the cosmetic effects of my melanoma removal, I was fortunate enough to have found it before it spread and got worse.

I am now cancer free and promote sun safety and spread the word about the dangers of tanning wherever I go. I am in the process of starting a spray tanning business in hopes of helping others prevent skin damage/cancer. If my story and new business can save just one person from skin cancer it will all be worth it.

Paula Schnack

Three time Melanoma Survivor & Lifelong Fighter

During high school I had attended several proms and before each one I spent a couple sessions in a tanning bed getting some color, just like everyone else was doing. Throughout college I also used a tanning bed during the spring to get a jump-start on my tan. I also had a lot of natural sun exposure from outdoor activities such as sports and lifeguarding.

On one of my trips to the dermatologist, they removed a mole from my leg and it came back as Melanoma, Stage 1. They treated it by removing a larger section of “good” skin around it to ensure the entire Melanoma was gone. Five years later I had a skin-colored bump appear on my ear. It had no pigment to it and was not painful. It was removed and diagnosed as Melanoma, Stage 3.

After further testing it was discovered that the Melanoma had spread to a lymph node. I had surgery for the removal of a large section of my ear, the reconstruction of that ear, and the removal of a total of 46 lymph nodes from my neck. Thankfully, all of the additional lymph nodes that were removed came back negative, but because of that one single positive lymph node I had to meet with an oncologist and begin 12 rounds of chemotherapy.

The treatments caused me to suffer severe fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pains, and injections site reactions. During the course of my treatments I had yet another diagnosis of Melanoma, Stage 1. It was treated similar to the first one with the larger section of “good” skin being removed. That one made it a total of 3 Melanomas by the age of 32!

Thinking back to when I did tan, cancer was the last thing to cross my mind.  Melanoma is the only cancer that is never considered in remission and this is something that I will fight for the rest of my life.  It’s a very serious cancer and can be prevented. Be sun safe and stay out of tanning beds!!

You can find Paula’s story soon on Facebook. PAULA’S MELANOMA FIGHT

Kandi Dolesh

Physicians Assistant at OrthoWest

I was an employee of a tanning salon and tanned regularly when I was in college. In the back of my mind, I knew tanning wasn’t good for me, however, I continued to do it frequently. After graduation, I decided to become a physician’s assistant. Through that program, I learned about the dangers of both indoor and outdoor UV exposure. I knew I had far too much exposure. One evening I felt a spot on my back that itched. I had my husband check it out and he said it just looked like a freckle. Knowing my history of excessive tanning, my gut instinct told me to have it looked at. Thank goodness I did because it was indeed melanoma. It was surgically removed and I was very lucky in that it had not spread.

As I look back, I would give up all of the tanning I did in a heartbeat. I am now at higher risk for developing future melanoma spots, which would be so devastating, especially when I think about my husband and two daughters. I encourage young women to make smart decisions from this day forward. You cannot change the past but you can make the best decisions possible for your future. Think about the bigger picture and what’s really important in life!

Mandy Scott

Former teacher and stay at home mother from Elmwood, Neb.

I have always LOVED the sun, and even more so the tan I got from it! I was a lifeguard every summer from the age of 15-20 years old. And when I wasn’t working, I was at the lake. Once you are tan you always want to maintain it, so I started tanning in the off seasons. By the time I was a freshman in college I was tanning 3-5 days a week! I wised up slightly and cut back after that year, but the damage had already been done. Shortly after I delivered my son at age 24, I had a mole removed from my foot that came back positive malignant melanoma. After the shock wore off and they removed the mole, I still thought it was not that big of a deal. NOPE. I had to have more skin taken off. Since it was on my foot, they had to take skin from my hip for a skin graft. As if recovering from surgery with a baby isn’t hard enough, my skin graft became infected and they had to rip it off and start over. No amount of “beauty” and tan is worth the pain and the burden of surgeries. I am lucky to have caught it before having to endure chemo on top of it, and of course to be around for my son and husband is the biggest blessing of all!

Ellie Krupicka

Student at Millard North, Model at Develop Model Management

Heather Crist

Dance Major at the University of Kansas

Since the age of 4, I have been a competition dancer. By high school, I was tanning at tanning salons for competitions so that my skin would not look so pasty on stage. I only tanned near competition season and then occasionally for school dances or vacations. I was not even a frequent tanner, but because of the few times I went and the few times not wearing sunscreen out in the sun, my skin was affected. I found a spot on my leg when I was 19; it first looked like a wart or something similar. I let it go, but eventually it started itching and it just wasn’t very attractive looking so I went to the doctor. They removed the spot along with some other concerning moles that were deformed and discolored. It was determined to be Spitz Nevus (benign juvenile melanoma). I did catch it soon enough that I did not have to go through chemo, but they did have to surgically remove skin from the area and cut through to my muscle removing multiple layers.  I have about a 3-inch scar on my leg, now I visit the dermatologist frequently for check ups and to keep myself aware of unusual spots on my body. I am very pale, but I rock it. When people make fun of me for being white, I explain why and lecture about indoor tanning and outdoor sunscreen. I would rather be white and healthy than tan and full of risks.