This spring break and prom season, many people will still bake in the sun or spend hours at the tanning salon despite years of warnings about skin cancer.
Don’t do it, Judy Cloud pleaded after dealing with the disease for a quarter of a century. She knows how tempting bronze skin can be, but wanted others to remember her scarred body and her story.
“I didn’t take skin cancer seriously after my first diagnosis. I was also one who thought, ‘No big deal, I’ll just get it cut off, I’m fine,’” Cloud, 53, told TODAY.
“Now, 25 years later, it’s a big deal.”
The Indianapolis, Indiana, resident continues to share updates on her skin cancer treatment to show it’s not always a “one-and-done” deal. Cloud estimated she’s had more than 40 spots taken off her face, chest, shoulder, arms and legs since 1995, the result of going to tanning salons and staying out too long in the sun when she was younger, she said.
When TODAY first featured her story in 2016, she was healing from her fourth surgery, during which doctors removed cancerous and precancerous spots from her face.
Since then, she’s had four additional surgeries — three to remove basal cell carcinoma on her chest and one to cut out a squamous cell carcinoma on her leg. She’s also had several areas treated with cryosurgery, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.
Next month, Cloud will undergo yet another surgery — this one to remove an area of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma under her nose. She’s been told the size of the cancer could be much larger under the skin, so she worries this procedure may be the one that ends up changing how she looks.
The surgeries have also caused scares in other aspects of her health. When Cloud had a mammogram in 2018, it revealed a suspicious area that required her to return for more tests. Cloud thought she had breast cancer before a panel of doctors ultimately decided the mass was scar tissue from a skin cancer surgery.
Cloud has come to dread the professional skin check she gets every six months, knowing there’s a good possibility her dermatologist will find a suspicious spot each time.
“Every appointment causes anxiety because I know I could either be poked or prodded or scraped or burned or stitched or biopsied,” Cloud said.
“I can’t look in the mirror without checking for a new spot… it does cause a moment of panic if I see something, whether it’s a bug bite or something that I don’t know what it is.”
Still, she’s thankful she’s never been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of the disease, and are often related to sun exposure, according to the American Cancer Society.
Basal cell carcinoma is not life-threatening for most people — it tends to grow slowly and seldom spreads to another part of the body — but treatment is still important, the American Academy of Dermatology noted.
Squamous cell carcinoma also usually develops slowly, but it can grow deep and injure nerves and blood vessels.
Cloud used tanning beds in her 20s, going in once a week for three to four weeks several times a year before vacation to get a “base tan,” she said.
Before that, she recalled playing outside all day as a child and laying out in the sun for hours as a teenager, covered in baby oil rather than sunscreen.
“We didn’t know back then what the sun would do,” Cloud said.
About 91% of melanoma cases diagnosed in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015 can be attributed to ultraviolet radiation exposure, according to a study published Monday in International Journal of Cancer.
She found her first suspicious spot in 1995. More than two decades later, she’s disappointed — but not surprised — she’s still dealing with skin cancer. As spring approached, Cloud had a simple message for people tempted to tan outside or in a salon.
“I want them to realize that if they think skin cancer won’t happen to them, it could. They could very well be paying the price for it down the road. Look at my photos, look at what I’m still going through,” she said.
“Even if you don’t get the skin cancer, there’s a good chance you’ll have the wrinkly, leathery skin; the sun spots. If you’re in a tanning bed, you’re damaging your skin.”