My twin and I addicted are sunbeds and I got cancer
Twins Lucy Simm and Samantha Simm, 29, care workers from Morecambe started using sunbeds when they were 14. There were four sunbed shops in the town, and sometimes they would go on for 16mins a time in a row, leading to a serious cancer scare, but have they learnt their lessons?
Lucy says: “All of our friends in our town loved sunbeds and Sam and I were no different. The sunbed shops were not too bothered how old you were and how long you used them. We used to nip in after school. They were really cheap and for a few quid we could get a few minutes in the tanning booth.
“I loved having a tan and you don't get much natural light in Morecambe, so sunbeds are the only option. We couldn't afford to go on foreign holidays every other week.”
Their parents Mum Sue, 52 and Dad Steve, 55 didn't think it was a major problem and didn't mind their twins hitting the sunbeds. At the time there was no national campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of getting a tan. Nobody in the family was aware of the potential dangers of sunbeds, so it wasn't frowned upon.
The twins continued to the use the sunbeds most days until they both fell pregnant aged 16.
Lucy says: “When we both fell pregnant; I had a son Ben (now 12) and Sam had a daughter Kerry (now 13) we didn't go on the sunbeds, however we would have been suing them regularly before we found out we were both pregnant.
“A week after he was born I went straight back on them. I couldn't wait to get my tan back, I felt naked without glowing skin. I wasn't really aware of the dangers of sunbeds; I just wanted to look good. Having a sun-kissed look gave me confidence. Sam and I even used to compete with each other for who would be the brownest.”
As the pair got older their addiction worsened, some days they would visit each of the four sunbed shops in the town, one after the other for 12 minutes a time, a whopping 48 minutes a day.
Lucy says: “We just wanted to get a tan as fast as possible, when we were young we got pocket money but when I was 18 I had a telesales job which covered the cost.
“You couldn't just jump back on the same bed in the same salon so we want on a sunbed crawl down the street, to avoid detection. We would go on every day, without fail, by the time we were 18 we were definitely addicted to sunbeds.
“We didn't even go on the beds for special occasions, like a night out, it was just something we did.”
Naively, the girls didn't realise how brown they were, even when people told them. When they looked in the mirror the person staring back at them simply wasn't brown enough.
Both girls had a number of moles on their bodies, and it was a matter of time before something would go wrong.
But it wasn't after the birth of Sam's second child Sarah, (now three) in 2011 that she noticed any problems.
Sam says: “I guess becoming a mother made me a bit more aware that I need to look after myself, for the sake of my children. In 2012?? I noticed a few moles looked dodgy and I went to the doctors. They removed three (and getting a forth taken off soon) that were looking dodgy. It was the wakeup call I needed to realise that my health had been adversely damaged.”
Since the removal of the moles, Sam has only been on sunbeds a few times, and she started to urge her twin to stop visiting the tanning salon, but it fell on deaf ears with near fatal consequences.
Lucy says: “I should have cared about my health more but I couldn't I was addicted. Sam had managed to kick the habit but I had to go on them. I would feel nervous and anxious if I couldn't get a sunbed. I built my whole day around ensuring I got at least 16 minutes.
“Generally it would be £7.50 for 16 minutes. I dread to think how long in total I have spent on sunbeds. Even when the salon started putting up notices to warn people not to overuse them, I didn't pay any attention.”
But in April, 2014 everything began to go wrong. She noticed a mole on her thigh, which looked a bit dodgy.
Lucy says: “I told my twin and she urged me to see a doctor and he said it was nothing to worry about. But when I told Sam, she said I had to go back to make totally sure. She was convinced it was something that needed to be sorted.”
Taking her twins concern on board Lucy went back for a second opinion, to the same GP, but with a different doctor. After another thorough examination, they noticed that the mole on her thigh was indeed potential life-threatening.
Lucy waited a month, for an appointment with a dermatologist. However, she went back on the sunbeds a couple more times, with a bandage over the dodgy mole.
Lucy says: “I know I shouldn't have gone back on but I did, then a few days later I got a phone call to tell me I had Melanoma, and I needed immediate surgery. I was terrified; I couldn't believe my sunbed addiction could kill me. To be honest I was more worried about my son and how he would cope if I didn't survive.”
On the 23rd June she underwent an operation and had a further operation on the 9th July to ensure the infected area had been cleared.
Lucy says “I went into theatre and was operated on and I was given the all clear on 16th July but I don't get the full clearance for a few years. I have to go for a test every three months for the foreseeable future.”
However, the scare has not totally wiped her sunbed addiction. Lucy has visited the sunbed salon once since she got the all clear
Lucy says; “I have to admit I went back on the sunbed after my cancer scare, however, I did wear a bandage over my infected mole. I know it's stupid and I am dicing with death, but I couldn't help it. I find it so hard to walk past a sunbed shop without the burning desire to go in.
“Having a tan was like a blanket of confidence over me, when it fades I feel awful and depressed.”
Twin Sam is concerned that her sister is still planning on going on the sunbeds again, risking her life for the sake of bronzed skin.
Sam says: “It took me years but now finally I have fought the addiction and I know it is not worth it. But my twin doesn't seem to fully realise, even after getting cancer herself. I just want to warn everyone out there who thinks sunbeds are harmless and make you look great, that this simply isn't the case.
“They can and will kill you”
Lucy want's to kick her addiction, but every day it is a battle for her to avoid the sunbed shop. She knows the risk of skin cancer hangs over her at all times.
Lucy says: “I hope I never go on sun beds again, but I can't promise I won't. I am aware of the dangers now, but like any addiction it is so hard to fight. Every minute on the sunbed is a huge step closer to the grave.
“I want to see my son grow up to become a man and I know that I won't be able to do that if I go on the sunbeds again. It could only be one session that could do it. I would ban myself from every sunbed shop if I could.”
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