Mum shares graphic selfie to warn against tanning

Tawny Willoughby and her son Kayden today.
Tawny Willoughby and her son Kayden today. Photo: Facebook

A mum has shared a graphic photo of her skin cancer treatment as a warning, hoping others won't follow in her once-tanned footsteps.

Tawny Willoughby grew up in a small town in Kentucky, in the US, where "everyone tanned", she told CNN.

"I had my own personal tanning bed in my home and so did a lot of my friends growing up … I didn't really even think about the future or skin cancer at the time."

Tawny Willoughby during her high school years, when she used a tanning bed every few days.
Tawny Willoughby during her high school years, when she used a tanning bed every few days. Photo: Facebook

Using the tanning bed around four or five times a week, Willoughby was unaware of the potential dangers of skin cancer.

As an adult she was prompted to get a skin check when a fellow nursing student was diagnosed with melanoma. That’s when Willoughby, then 21, was told she had skin cancer herself.

Six years later, she has had basal cell carcinoma five times and squamous cell carcinoma once - both are classified as being non-melanoma skin cancers. She told CNN that she visits her dermatologist every six to 12 months, where she continues to have areas treated or cancerous spots of skin removed.

A month ago the 27-year-old, who is now married and a mum to Kayden, 2, posted a photo of her face after a treatment session on Facebook. The graphic image, which shows her blistered and scabbed face, has now been shared almost 50,000 times.

(Story continues below post)

If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment...

Posted by Tawny Willoughby on Saturday, 25 April 2015

"If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like” she wrote. "Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it."

The nurse hadn’t expected her photo to go viral, but is happy to think that her pain might help save someone from going through the same thing - or even dying.

"I've lost count of how many people shared it now and told me I've helped them," she said. "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.”

"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 Australia, skin cancers account for around 80 per cent of newly diagnosed cancers. Cancer Council Australia doesn't recommend the use of tanning beds as they emit both UVA and UVB radiation, both of which can cause cancer.