Skin Cancer Survivor Says, ‘Love the skin you’re in.’

"You don't have to have a tan to be loved, or to fit in, or to be liked. God made you exactly the way you are for a reason. I realize now there's absolutely nothing wrong with fair skin."

Cathey Gray
photo of Cathey Gray

Skin cancer survivor Cathey Gray has not seen the inside of a tanning bed since last summer. Before that, for about 7 years, she tanned her skin in a tanning bed almost every day. She liked the peace and quiet of it, and she liked way her skin looked with a tan. But in 2009 when she was 44, Gray began noticing hard bumps on her feet, legs, back, chest, and hands.

At first, Gray went to the doctor and had the growths burned off. She found out they were a kind of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds are risk factors for skin cancer, but Gray still kept tanning. “There’s nothing like the peaceful 15-20 minute solitude one feels when lying in a tanning bed away from all of life’s troubles, but it’s not worth it,” she says now. She stopped tanning after some of the growths she had burned off grew back again, and new ones appeared that were much, much worse.

The new growths went deeper into Gray’s skin and some of them developed into open sores, which caused a lot of pain. They had to be removed through surgery, and the recovery was also painful. “It requires anesthesia, pain medicines, daily cleaning wrapping, and many, many tears, along with constant pain,” said Gray. The pain from sores on her feet became so intense she couldn’t walk, and she was forced to quit her job and move in with her mother.

Gray has now sworn off tanning and warns others that it can cause skin cancer, premature aging, and in her case, permanent scars from skin surgery. “People warned me about tanning years ago and I thought it wouldn’t happen to me,” said Gray. “Everybody thinks, ‘it’s not going to happen to me,’ but they’re wrong. Overnight, all of a sudden, I have so many wrinkles. Don’t be like me and say, ‘it’ll never happen to me.’ Never say ‘never.’”

Gray also has a new appreciation for pale skin. “If your skin is snow-white, as mine once was, be proud to be you,” said Gray. “You don’t have to have a tan to be loved, or to fit in, or to be liked. God made you exactly the way you are for a reason. I realize now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with fair skin. Wear it proudly!”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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