Thursday, February 28, 2013

My trip to the Oregon House Health Care Committee

Me testifying at the Oregon House committee hearing. Photo: Jeremy Rush.

Let me begin with a spoiler: On Wednesday afternoon, Oregon House Bill 2896 passed unanimously through the Oregon House Committee on Health Care! That means we're one step closer to banning minors under 18 from using UV tanning beds in Oregon.

Now, let me rewind a bit. Earlier this week, I got to drive down to Salem and tell my story about tanning beds and skin cancer to the committee. I was one of three patients who testified (special shout out to my friend Mark Williams, who gave a fantastic testimony). Three experts also spoke in favor of the bill, including world-renowned cancer researcher Brian Druker.

Me and Brian Druker, M.D. Photo: Jeremy Rush.

Several friends have asked me if I was nervous at the hearing. Of course I was nervous! I'd never been to a hearing like this before and I had no idea how the representatives would react to my testimony. Plus, I've been following how similar bills have been proposed in other states. Learning about Chelsea's recent experience in Virginia was also a bit disheartening.

Fortunately, as I told my story about using tanning beds and my subsequent melanoma diagnosis, members of the committee seemed engaged and many nodded their heads when I shared how I begged my mom to let me go tanning in 10th grade. Some of the key concerns I expressed in my testimony are:
  • That teenagers are unaware how serious skin cancer can be.
  • Even if they know tanning is dangerous, they may engage in risky behavior because of influence by peers.
  • A large number of high school students use indoor tanning beds, especially before prom and senior portraits. Even smart, high-achieving students are worried about their appearance.
  • Tanning beds use is very poorly regulated. Most tanning salons I visited let me tan for the maximum time and did not take into consideration my naturally fair complexion or that I might burn.
  • Parents are often unaware of the risks of indoor tanning, so they are unable to adequately protect their children. For example, many parents believe it's smart to get a "pre-vacation" tan or that you need to tan to produce enough vitamin D. Medical research suggests that neither of these myths are true.
  • Melanoma rates in young tanning bed users are skyrocketing.
I also gave a detailed description of my melanoma diagnosis, treatment, and the anxiety I deal with knowing I may develop a second melanoma.

Talking with one of the committee members after the hearing. Photo: Jeremy Rush.

Of course, we had to hear from the opposition, which included both a local tanning industry representative and a national lobbyist who flew in from Colorado. It was frustrating to hear them speak, especially when they said things that contradicted what I had said just minutes earlier. Their arguments were predictable: that tanning beds don't actually cause melanoma, that parents should be able to monitor their own children, and that the tanning bed industry strives to encourage "smart" and healthy tanning behavior. Interestingly, the lobbyist's testimony was very argumentative. At one point, everyone in the room held their breath while he sparred back and forth with the committee chair, refusing to directly answer his question about the safety of UV tanning equipment. Ultimately, his testimony persuaded one of the more conservative committee members to vote in support of the bill.

The bill is now headed to the full Oregon House for a vote, so it's not over yet! But I do feel very lucky, not just to be alive to share my story, but also to have been chosen to speak on behalf of so many other people impacted by melanoma in our state. This is all a tremendous learning experience for me, and I hope it becomes another vehicle to raise awareness about melanoma--not just in Oregon--but across the U.S.


  1. Very VERY proud of you and your efforts!

  2. I am so excited for your Katie - you have so much to offer, so much difference to make.
    Well done, and congratulations on a terrific job!

  3. So glad to see this happening! Nice job Katie!

  4. Awesome! You were made for this!

  5. I am a little late reading this but great job. It sounds like Oregon may actually get a bill passed and signed this session. I also think you did a great job on the news last month as well.

  6. Have you ever googled sunshine and vitamin D? You know, to get a scientific viewpoint not pushed by mainstream media and big pharma?

    Melanoma is more likely to be caused by LOW vitamin D than by sun exposure. Pacific Islanders have not all died off from living every day in the sun - it's the pale northerners who slather themselves with SPF 50 who get melanoma and all sorts of other diseases because they are LACKING IN VITAMIN D.

    i.e. they don't get enough sun exposure.

    Having a cause is respectable but you should do your homework before attacking one of the primary sources of life on planet earth. Tanning responsibly is one of the healthiest things you can do.

  7. Katie--Such a great job! I'm glad I could be part of it too, even though it was a small part in writing letters to the committee members! Keep up the awesomeness!!! :)