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Deep tans may look healthy, but aren't

Health Scope by Ella Johnson

March 15, 2004 -  It's spring break season, and students will flock to sunny destinations to soak up sunshine and to party. For many who want to look their best, a stop at a tanning parlor is a must.

Robin Lawrence- Broesch fights the idea that a deep tan is a sign of health and beauty. A reformed tanner and skin cancer survivor, Lawrence-Broesch knows too much sun or excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation can lead to skin cancer.

Lawrence- Broesch estimates that she has delivered her sun-safety message to more than 4,000 middle school, high school and university students since her diagnosis two years ago. More recently, she has been sharing the story of a young woman from Western Kentucky who died of skin cancer. Denita Wilson Majors was a popular student in high school in Morganfield, Ky. Determined to look her best, Majors spent a lot of time bronzing under the sun or at tanning parlors. She continued to get deep tans after high school. Over the years, several moles grew on Majors' body. After being pestered by her sister, Denise Wilson, who had recently had a mole removed, Majors agreed to have a doctor examine a mole on her left breast. The local doctor referred her to an Evansville dermatologist to have the mole biopsied, along with three suspicious-looking moles on her back.

All of the spots were diagnosed as melanoma. Majors was immediately referred to a cancer specialist in Indianapolis, who found six cancerous tumors on her brain, 11 cancer spots on a lung and 18 on her liver in September.

Doctors gave Majors, 24, only three to six months to live. By Nov. 23, the cancer had spread to her bones. She died Nov. 30, leaving a husband, Walt, and children, Chelsi, 2, and Brennen, 4.

Although no one knows for sure, Majors suspected the cancer was the result of years of extreme exposure to ultraviolet rays from tanning beds. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute last year found a link between tanning bed use and an increased risk of developing melanoma.

“Denita had no symptoms of melanoma until the very end,” Lawrence-Broesch said. “The sad part is she did not even make it two months from the time of her diagnosis.”

Before she died, Majors was videotaped in an interview with Lawrence- Broesch. They talked about how cancer had affected Majors' life. The interview has been incorporated into the presentation Lawrence- Broesch conducts on skin cancer. Majors' mother, Cheryl Wilson, sometimes accompanies Lawrence-Broesch to offer her perspective.

“The video is definitely the shocker for the kids,” said Lawrence-Broesch, who is trying to reach as many youths as possible before the end of spring break and the beginning of another summer tanning season.

Groups interested in scheduling a presentation may send e-mail to Lawrence-Broesch at or call 474-6000 and leave a message.

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