As a teenager, Lisa Pace laughed in the face of skin cancer. Doctors kept telling her that she was at risk, but she ignored every one of their warnings. Despite her fair skin, she wanted a tan. So she would pay a hefty portion of her weekly budget toward session after session at the local tanning salon. Her desire to fit in with her high school peers and look “sexy” overrode logic and the warnings she had heard about skin cancer.
And by the time she went to college, tanning had become part of her everyday routine. The more compliments she received about her dark skin, the more she paid for her sessions, despite the risk of cancer.
“I’ve always been self-conscious of being light skinned with freckles and red hair. I started tanning every day, or every other day. It was addictive. People would say ‘You look so good, you look tan.’ And it just encouraged me.”
In 2000, Lisa was diagnosed with her first case of skin cancer. It was melanoma, which is the deadliest type of skin cancer. She laughed because she thought it was something “they would just scrape off of me.”
She avoided the surgery for weeks.
“I blew it off for weeks. They kept calling me and eventually, they said, ‘You need to get in here now.’”
She was a twenty-something and a basketball coach (dream job) and had life by the horns. Nothing could slow her down. Or so she thought.
She had underestimated cancer for so long it was catching up to her.
A few months after her case of melanoma was removed, she returned to her tanning beds.
Then cancer appeared on her face.
“It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking,” she told TODAY. “This whole time I had been worried about how I looked, and now I have a huge scar on my face.”
Because she kept getting cancer, Lisa finally decided to drop her deadly tanning habit. But it was too late to undo the damage she caused.
She is in her forties now and has undergone eight-six surgeries. Skin cancer keeps coming back. And threatens her ability to live.
“If I could go back and talk to my 17-year-old self, I would tell (her) that skin cancer is avoidable. (I’d say) don’t get in that tanning bed. Wear sunscreen. Wear protective clothing. People are going to love you for what you look like on the inside, not on the outside.”
But she was not there to warn herself. And now she is dealing with the consequences.
“By this point, I started finding the spots myself,” she said. “I had a high success rate of spotting them. I’d get it right about eight out of ten times. (Cancer was) all over my arms, legs, back, chest, face, and my nose.”
Doctors were stunned. They had never seen someone – who didn’t have a genetic disorder – suffer from so much skin cancer.
Now Lisa wants to warn everyone about tanning. Use sunscreen when you go outdoors.