These days, anyone even remotely interested in beauty or self-care knows the dangers of indoor tanning (and outdoor tanning, for that matter). In the past decade, science has proven that, without a doubt, the risks of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer are not worth the reward of a nice tan.
But 30 years ago, the consequences of tanning were not as widely known, and devotees of the practice had no idea that tanning beds cause skin cancer. Unfortunately, women who nursed tanning addictions back in the day are beginning to see how risky their fun-in-the-sun hobby actually was.
That’s what happened to 64-year-old Elaine Sheaf, who spent her younger years laying in tanning beds and her more recent years recovering from skin cancer. After multiple surgeries to remove a cancerous mole on her face, she’s left with a gaping hole on her cheek. She recently opened up about her struggle and her surgeries to shine some light on the dangers of skin cancer.
Before She Got Cancer, Elaine Loved Indoor Tanning
64-year-old Kent, England resident Elaine Sheaf loved the look of tan skin in her younger days. She spent her summers lounging in the sun without proper SPF coverage, and her winters inside tanning beds to keep her glow going strong. Sheaf even admits to purposely allowing her skin to burn in the sun so that she would tan faster. "We used to laugh and say we looked like strawberries – it was so stupid," she says. By the time she was 30, she outgrew the practice.
She Got Her Mole Checked And Was Cleared By Doctors
In 1995, Sheaf noticed a mole growing on her cheek and decided to seek medical attention. The doctor evaluated the mole, claimed it was nothing to worry about, and sent Sheaf on her way. Almost 20 years later, that mole proved to be a cancerous melanoma.
Elaine Got It Checked Again At The Urging Of A Friend
When Elaine bumped into an old friend in 2013 that she hadn't seen in a while, the friend said, "Crikey Elaine, your mole has grown!" That almost-rude comment may have extended Elaine's life - she soon had the mole checked again by a doctor, who confirmed it was indeed skin cancer.
Elaine says, "In the end, it had gone from a circle–like freckle to a more jagged shape and that's one of the signs too. It was never painful, just a bit itchy. I'd rub it all the time but never thought anything of it until that friend pointed it out."
And She's Been Left With A Gaping Hole In Her Face
To remove the cancerous mole, doctors had to cut deep and even shave down some of Sheaf's cheekbone, which has left more than just a scar - it's left a hole in her face. "I went to a place in the hospital which is for people who have disfigurement due to burns or surgery and they gave me special make-up and taught me how to put it on," Sheaf says. "Now, even with make up on, if I turn sideways my face is indented because my cheek has been cut away."
Instead of hiding from the world, though, Sheaf wants to use her experience to help make sure that this doesn't happen to anyone else. She's now a sun-safety activist.