Student’s skin cancer battle


Jenna Hynek

Always make your sales based on commission or you will have the possibility of being fired. You must check in the customers, educate the customers and clean their beds but don’t ever tell a customer that tanning is safe the first red flag.

Tess Lewis, who had just turned 18 years old, was barely legal to sit in a tanning bed when she was offered a position at Sun Tan City. But the pay and commission were too good to pass up as she was sometimes making a couple hundred extra dollars a week in her sales alone. She told everyone she worked at Sun Tan City,including friends who became worried for her safety.

Lewis began to tan every other day to fight a battle of low self-esteem.

“The tanning definitely made me feel better about myself. It made me feel more confident; it made me feel skinnier, and I got a lot more compliments when I was tan,” Lewis said.

But her friends were more concerned with her likelihood of skin cancer. And one day in chemistry class, Lewis’ phone rang and her friends’ fear became reality.

“I went in and I already had a dime-sized piece of skin removed from my leg that they said would scar me for the rest of my life,” Lewis said. “They had to end up taking about a quarter-size spot around it just to remove any pre-cancerous spots.”

The second test came back fine, showing no more pre-cancerous cells in the area,but there was something else wrong. A quarter-sized scar on her leg that would be there for the rest of her life. A constant reminder on her leg that already made her feel self conscious.

“That spot is never going to go away, and I’m always going to have to look at it,” Lewis said. “It made me feel stupid because I felt like I had done this to myself and this was my fault.”

Before the pre-cancerous spot had been found, it had been over a year since she had tanned.

Lewis was not the first person in her family to go through a cancer scare. She lost her grandmother to ovarian cancer when she was a junior in high school and her father found a cancerous spot on his nose when she was going into her sophomore year of college.

Lewis, a junior at UNO, is aiming towards a degree in pharmacy, a career she chose because of the medical conditions in her family— especially her grandmother’s.

“In hospice [my grandmother] was given the medicine and drugs she needed to keep her with us,” Lewis said. “[The medicines] gave us all the time that we had with her, and that was what we needed.”

This led to the main reason Lewis decided on her degree—she wanted to help people.

“I wanted to be able to even give one person the ability to stay with their loved ones a little bit longer and improve their quality of life,” Lewis said.

She wants to make an impact on the lives of others but Lewis hasn’t forgotten about her health either. She has not been to a tanning bed in two years and exercises regularly to escape the stress of the day. However, it doesn’t remove the constant reminder of her time in the tanning bed.

“Every day I see the scars on my body, and it can be frustrating because in shorts, swimsuits and even dresses, you can see the scar,” Lewis said.

Tanning has impacted her for the rest of her life because she has to get check-ups every six months on her skin for pre-cancerous spots because of her likelihood to get skin cancer. Lewis has learned in an effort to battle her self-esteem, the decisions she made have changed her body forever, including early skin aging symptoms.

“It’s just not worth it,” Lewis said. “Obviously being tan improves people’s self confidence…but you can get those same effects from spray tanning, self tanning, or just being confident in your own skin.