Cancer patient joins tanning bed debate

Kasey Shriver

A southwest Iowa skin cancer patient is courageously sharing her story to advocate for tanning bed restrictions.

On Tuesday, Kasey Shriver, 22, of Carson spoke to more than 50 American Cancer Society volunteers from around the state gathered in Des Moines for the society’s annual legislative day. She talked via video hookup from Lawrence, Kan., where she is studying exercise science at the University of Kansas.

The House Human Resources Committee approved a bill 15-5 Tuesday that would prohibit minors from using indoor tanning devices, according to Danielle Oswald-Thole, a grass-roots leader for the society. An amendment to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to tan with their parents’ consent was defeated, 11-9.

How the bill will fare once it gets to the floor is unclear, said Suzanne Mages, Relay for Life specialist for the American Cancer Society.

“If it passes, there will be a lot of education to follow,” she said.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, and Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, talked to volunteers during their visit but did not make a firm commitment to support the bill, Mages said.

Shriver, whose once vanquished melanoma returned as a brain tumor a few months ago, just wants the Iowa Legislature to “pass some sort of law,” she said in an email message.

“If it were my call, I would ban tanning beds altogether,” she said. “We are pushing for 18, I believe; but even at the age of 18, we are uneducated and oblivious to the real consequences of how we treat our bodies in our youth.

“I was captain of my basketball team when I was first diagnosed five years ago and had to tell my team the night before my first surgery that I couldn’t continue the season,” Shriver said. “I said, with the help of my cousin and coaches, ‘I was diagnosed with cancer, malignant melanoma, and I have surgery tomorrow. I cannot continue to play out this season. I want you guys to know that this is because I used tanning beds.’”

That same evening, two of her teammates said they would rather be tan and have melanoma than to stop using tanning beds, she said.

“Aside from 17-year-old ignorance, it is being uneducated,” Shriver said. “Seventeen-year-olds are uneducated and should not be able to make the decision to use tanning beds.”

Shriver’s friends and family are advocating for restrictions on tanning beds, too.

“Now that we are all spread out at different colleges, it’s amazing how word spreads,” she said. “I have had numerous people contact me that I don’t even know, saying a friend of a friend of a friend told them my story and they have stopped using tanning beds.”

Shriver started visiting tanning salons when she was 14.

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“At first, it was just for vacations but, around the age of 16-17, it became more of a habit,” she said. “Everyone was doing it – sometimes year-round. We all wanted to look good in sports, of course.”

The girls sometimes competed with each other to see who could get the darkest tan, she said.

At 17, Shriver went to her doctor to have a mole removed and was diagnosed with melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer. She and her family and friends were “devastated,” she said.

“‘I can’t play sports’ was actually one of my first thoughts,” she said. “Back then, it was all, I guess you could say, superficial thoughts: ‘How am I going to have a social life? Am I going to feel well enough to have any fun for a year?’

“Just five years ago, we were all much less educated on the severity of the disease. It was just a bump in the road – get through treatment and you can continue. We never thought in a million years it would return.”

Shriver had surgery and endured a year of immunotherapy. After that, she checked out as cancer-free for several years. A few months ago, she began experiencing double vision and went to see her doctor. That led to the diagnosis of a brain tumor. She has since had high-dose radiation treatments and has begun another year of immunotherapy.

“With my current tumor, it is my future that I am worried about,” she said. “Now that I am 22 and have very big plans for my future, it is all very real to me, and survival comes into my thoughts a lot. I plan to attend a challenging nursing program to get my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, (work as a) travel nurse with a friend of mine for a few years around the U.S. and possibly overseas, and then go back to school to get my doctorate in nursing and practice as a nurse practitioner.”

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