Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Tawny Willoughby, a 27-year-old nurse who grew up in a small Kentucky town, shared a photo to Facebook in April ahead of May’s Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
The image shows her face after using a cream called Aldara, or imiquimod, to treat skin cancer. The cream is used in lieu of surgery to treat superficial basal cell carcinoma.
“The way Aldara works is by recruiting your own immune system to attack the skin cancer,” said dermatologist Bobby Buka of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “So you’re essentially directing the immune system to that cancerous process and telling the immunes system to get charged up and wreak havoc.” He explained that the resulting inflammation, as seen in Willoughby’s photo, is not permanent.
“If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go!” Willoughby wrote. “This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Don’t let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up. That’s my biggest fear now that I have a two year old little boy of my own.”
In the post, she explained that she was a frequent tanner in high school, using tanning beds four to five times per week. She had her first of six skin cancer diagnoses at 21.
Willoughby posted the photo, which had more than 57,000 shares at the time of publication, to help spread awareness about the dangers of exposure to UV light.
“I’ve lost count of how many people shared it now and told me I’ve helped them,” she told CNN. “It’s really cool to hear people say they won’t tan anymore. I’ve had mothers thank me after sharing my pictures with their daughters. People in my hometown said they are selling their tanning beds. I never thought about the future when I was in high school; I just tanned because it was normal to me.”
Willoughby did not immediately respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with melanoma being the deadliest. In 2011, 65,647 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin. Skin cancer can be caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, either naturally from the sun or artificially in a tanning bed. Symptoms include a growth, a sore that doesn’t heal or a changing mole.