With Memorial Day approaching fast, and the start of summer right ahead, thoughts are already turning to beach and pool season and — still for too many — tanning. Which is why the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope is now hard at work on its biggest annual effort to raise awareness about the life-threatening dangers of tanning.
On Sunday, May 17, 2015, the organization will hold its annual 3.7-mile “Piggy Trot” race in Osterville, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. The race honors Glenna Kohl, who died in 2008 at the age of 26 from melanoma resulting from an addiction to tanning. The race aims to bring more attention to the importance of safeguarding skin against skin cancer.
“I definitely feel that over-tanning is just as important an addiction as drug addictions. Glenna was a perfect example of this,” says Colleen Kohl, Glenna’s mother. “She became such a sun worshipper that it became an addiction for her to stay tan. So much so, that when she could not tan outdoors, she started going to tanning beds to maintain her tan from the summer, and for special occasions.”
Kohl adds that when interviewed after her cancer diagnosis and during treatment for melanoma, Glenna admitted that she’d become “addicted” to tanning. “She knew it was wrong, but she couldn’t stop,” remembers Kohl. “She kept telling herself, one more time, and then I’ll stop. She was an extremely healthy person — always eating right and exercising all the time — but the one thing she couldn’t do was stop tanning, until it was too late.”
The Consequences of a Tanning Addiction
Glenna never thought she’d be one to get a cancer diagnosis, says her mom. “When you are tanning it feels good and you don’t feel like you are doing anything bad to your body,” she says. But of course, the repercussions can be serious and even cost lives.
In 2015, a projected 9,940 Americans will die from melanoma, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the American Cancer Society. It’s estimated, too, that 30 million people tan at indoor tanning salons in the US each year, according to the AAD, in spite of the well-documented dangers of using tanning beds. And an untold number every year wind up with sunburns from being outside, raising their risk for skin cancer with every burn.
To Join the Piggy Trot
There’s still time to sign up for the race, named for a nickname Glenna’s college roommates gave her. This is the sixth year for theevent, which will offer goodie bags with sunscreen to all runners and walkers, with donations going towards the fund’s mission to raise awareness. The Kid’s Fun Run begins at 9:30 am on May 17, and the Piggy Trot kicks off at 10 am. Pre-registration is $30 and ends May 14 at midnight. If you prefer to pay the day of the race the fee is $35.
“Spring is the time that we want to reach out to as many people as possible to spread this awareness message to prepare people before summer starts to be smart in the sun,” Colleen Kohl says. “I want readers of Addiction.com to know that this disease is incredibly dangerous and it only takes one bad sunburn to change everything in their lives.” She adds that she’d like people to understand “the risks that they are taking by not protecting their skin against the harmful rays of the sun, and especially tanning bulbs.”
Like other parent advocates, Kohl is continuing the work her daughter started before she died, while trying to make sense and purpose out of her loss. “In one of the last speeches she made, [Glenna] stated that she wanted to tell others about her experience because she didn’t want to see anyone have to go through what she had,” says Colleen. “We feel we are speaking through Glenna when we spread awareness about this disease, and we know we have touched many people with her story.”
Seven Ways to Protect Yourself from the Sun
New Orleans-based dermatologist Mary Lupo, MD, a member of the Women’s Dermatologic Society, offers these tips for guarding your skin against the sun’s harmful rays:
- Generously apply SPF. A broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) should be worn every day.
- Re-apply SPF approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
- Shun the sun. Wear protective clothing — a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Seek shade. The sun is most damaging to skin between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so avoid these being outside or in full sun during the times when rays are at their strongest.
- Say no to tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds puts you at greater risk for skin cancer (and wrinkling).
- Get your skin checked annually by a dermatologist who can identify suspicious, atypical moles; a skin check is essential to stopping skin cancer altogether or catching it early enough to save your life. If you are at higher risk of skin cancer, you may need more frequent checks.
- Find help for tanning addiction. If you believe you have a tanning addiction and, like Glenna Kohl and many others, you can’t stop sun-worshipping, seek the help of a mental health professional to help you find healthier ways to seek pleasure, address any underlying mental health issues
To donate to the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope, learn more about Glenna, tanning addiction, staying safe in the sun, or to join the Piggy Trot, go to www.glennasfund.org. You can also send a check or money order to: Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope, P.O. Box 171, Marstons Mills, Massachusetts 02648.
Piggy Trot illustration courtesy of The Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope