“I don’t care if I die from tanning, as long as I die tan.”
Those were the words that Washington resident Ashley Trenner once used to say. But now, years later, she holds a rather different opinion on the matter. “I don’t think that way anymore”, she told reporters.
Tanning started out as a once-in-a-while treat, used before prom and to jumpstart her tan before summer vacations. But as she got older, tanning become a regular habit. While Ashley sought to be healthy and fit in other areas, she didn’t care for her naturally fair skin and used tanning beds to keep it bronze year-round.
While she was in her late twenties, her mom tried to convince her to stop tanning, reminding her of the fact that her uncle had passed away from melanoma. But Ashley loved her tan skin too much to give up the habit, and the possibility of death seemed ridiculously far-fetched at the time.
In 2003, a small lesion was the first sign of the fact that her body wasn’t actually okay — but it was safely removed, and the test for cancer came back negative.
When the spot reappeared a year later, she chose to ignore it. It seemed likely to her that it was benign, and her job didn’t provide health insurance. Treating it seemed unnecessary at the time. But the spot continued to grow, reaching the size of a quarter. When she finally sought medical attention in 2006, Ashley was diagnosed with stage III melanoma.
After enduring a brutal treatment regime, Ashley managed to stay cancer-free for three years. But in 2009, the cancer reappeared. For the next two years, she tried multiple types experimental treatments and drugs, but these all failed to do anything. The cancer kept spreading throughout her body, and treatments were taking a major toll on her as well.
Her 40th birthday was spent celebrating with family and over a hundred friends, but it was marked with the sober realization that she likely wouldn’t have another.
But even as her condition became increasingly grave, Ashley’s thoughts were turned towards helping others. She herself was paying a painful price for not listening to cautions about tanning beds, but perhaps others might listen to her. “If there’s one person’s life I can affect, that’s a beautiful gift I can give to somebody. I don’t want them to end up like me, it’s just not worth it.”
Washington television station King 5 helped her spread the message, giving her the opportunity to speak to many others and warn them of the dangers of tanning. She lamented, “I paid money to be in the position I’m in now. I literally paid to get this terrible disease that is killing me.”
And thankfully, her wish to help others was fulfilled. After the video aired, a slew of cards was sent where people expressed both their sympathy, and their commitment to never tan. She’s inspired many to avoid the health-hazard, and inspired several laws which ban minors from tanning without a prescription from their doctor.
In May of 2013, Ashley succumbed to the cancer after seven long years of fighting. She was surrounding by her loving family and friends as she passed.