This Woman Addicted To Tanning Now Has A Gaping Hole In Her Face From Cancer

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

    And She's Been Left With A Gaping Hole In Her Face
    Video: YouTube

    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.

  • Her Skin Cancer Metastasized Into Stage 4 Lung Cancer

    Her Skin Cancer Metastasized Into Stage 4 Lung Cancer
    Photo: Aidan Jones / Flickr

    In the past four years, Sheaf has undergone more than 15 different surgeries, radiation, and immunotherapy, but all of that wasn't enough to keep the cancer at bay. She recently endured a lung biopsy - while awake - to check on some modules that had appeared in her lungs on CT scans, but it was too late. The cancer has metastasized to her lungs.

  • How Tanning Works And Why It's So Dangerous

    How Tanning Works And Why It's So Dangerous
    Photo: holisticmonkey / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Tanning beds use ultraviolet light bulbs to create UV radiation, which mimics the UV light of the sun. UV radiation is a type of UV light known as "UVA." UVA light gives you an instant "glow," yes, but it also penetrates skin so deeply that it hits the nerves and blood vessels below, which can compromise the immune system and cause melanoma. Not so glamorous.