MaryAnn Gerber loved the way she looked with a tan. As a teenager, she visited a tanning salon almost every week. A few years later she noticed a pink mole on her face. The look of it bothered her, so she visited a plastic surgeon to have it removed, only to discover it was a malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
“I was vain about having a tan and that same vanity drove me to the plastic surgeon when I noticed a mole. Vanity almost killed me and vanity saved my life.”
Gerber was diagnosed with stage III melanoma at the age of 24. Since no one in her family had a history of skin cancer, she and her physicians believe tanning led to her disease. Typically, melanoma at such a young age is caused by a genetic mutation. “My grandfather was a farmer and worked out in the sun all his life, but he wore hats and long sleeves. He never got skin cancer but I had it as a young woman—I’m certain because of tanning.” Two surgeries later, Gerber is left with a six-inch scar that runs down her left cheek. “It used to bother me, but now I wear it as a badge of honor. It gives me the opportunity to talk about skin cancer and sun safety when people ask me about it.”
Gerber is part of an outreach team at Huntsman Cancer Institute that calls itself “Ten Young Women against Skin Cancer.” All the group members were diagnosed with skin cancer at early ages. All believe unsafe sun exposure and tanning led to their disease, and now they speak out to discourage other people, particularly young women, from tanning. They also promote sun safety, which includes wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and long sleeves when outdoors for long periods. “I’m not that much older than the girls I speak to, and they can see that if it can happen to me, it can happen to them. Nearly losing your life for a tan is definitely not worth it.”
Learn more about melanoma in our cancer types and topics, or visit the Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Program webpages.