Conversation With Miss Maryland: Even Teens Can Get Skin Cancer
Brittany Lietz has a highly personal platform. The 21-year-old nursing student and newly crowned Miss Maryland was diagnosed with melanoma at age 20a result, she thinks, of her obsession with tanning. After two dozen surgeries, Lietz is looking forward to spreading the word about the risk of skin cancer at the Miss America pageant on Jan. 29, 2007.
How did you get started tanning?
At 17, I started using tanning beds because of the prom. I'm very, very, very pale, and I bought a white prom dress, of all things, and decided that the only way I was going to look pretty in that dress was to be tan. By the end of two years I was going four to five times a week, about 20 minutes a time. A lot of girls I know tan twice a day. When I look back on it now, I really do believe that it was addictive for me. Because I really did not like going. It was very uncomfortable.
What was uncomfortable about it?
It was hot and sweaty. And it really honestly feels like you're in a coffin. I don't know if you've ever been in one before, which I hope you haven't.
No, I haven't. I'm sort of resigned to being pale.
Which is great. Don't start.
How did you find out you had skin cancer?
About a year and a half into tanning, my mom saw a mole on my back. The mole was probably about the size of a nickel, and pretty much looked like all the pictures of melanoma. But I said, 'Oh, it's fine; I'm not sick. There's nothing wrong with me.' It wasn't until about eight or nine months after that, when it started to bleed, that I knew there was something wrong. You never think as a teenager that you'll get cancer.
How did they treat your melanoma?
I was in surgery for about two hours to remove an 8-inch diameter of skin in a circle on my back. I have about an 8-inch scar across my back. After going through that initial surgery, I didn't want that to happen again. I just said, if there's anything that looks weird or anything that feels weird, let's just take it off. So I've had about 25 different surgeries. I never had another melanoma, but I had a lot of precancerous lesions, ones that would have become melanoma if I hadn't taken them off.
Maybe this is a dumb question, but do those scars affect what you can wear in competition?
People ask me that all the time: You have a swimsuit competitionwhat do you do with the scars? Well, luckily, with Miss America, the main part of what you do is to promote your platform. And the judges are completely aware that my platform is skin cancer awareness. I don't hide my scars. Of course at first, it wasI'd never had a scar before in my life, and now I have these huge scars everywhere, and what am I going to do, and this is so upsetting.
I use a sunless tanner during competition because I am so pale that with stage lights, I get completely washed out. It's makeup for my body, and it does camouflage my scars. But they're my battle scars, and it helps to be able to show them to teenagers and say, look, this is what happened to me.
How did you get the Miss Maryland contestants not to tan?
I tell them, 'You're competing in a beauty pageant. So why would you age yourself and make your skin look leathery or gross? Why is it worth it to you, especially when you have sunless tanners?' So I can happily say that all the girls told me that they used sunless tanner and didn't go to a tanning salon, at least from April to June in preparation for the competition.
It's funny to imagine all the Miss America contestants in one room harassing each other about their platforms.
Right! Well, most people don't do that. I tend to just harass because, I mean, I really genuinely just don't want someone to have to go through it.