PORTLAND -- Here in the Pacific Northwest many of us long for that "sun-kissed" skin. As a result some people turn to tanning beds or head out into the sun with little or no protection. But doing so increases the risk of one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
In her teens, fair-skinned Ashley Trenner longed to be tan. She said she started using tanning beds when she was in high school.
“If I was out in the sunshine I certainly wasn't using sunscreen,” Trenner said.
She continued her love of sunshine and tanning beds throughout her 20's, until one day seven years ago.
“I had noticed a black spot underneath my skin that looked like a pencil lead or a stitch,” she explained.
Thinking it was nothing serious, and because she did not have insurance, she decided not to go to the doctor. Within a year it grew to the size of a quarter.
One day while taking a shower it became excruciatingly painful. It was then that Trenner knew she had to see a doctor.
“He removed it," she said. "Two days later the doctor called me back and said, 'Ashley, I have bad news for you: It’s malignant melanoma.'”
The cancer had spread into her lymph nodes. She immediately underwent treatment and was cancer-free for three years, until she found a lump.
“I think right that very second I knew what it was,” Trenner said.
The melanoma had returned. In the months following, she would go through several different treatments, but the cancer remained and eventually spread into her upper back, liver and lungs.
“My doctor recommended I come down here and see Dr. Curti and to do OncoVEX,” Trenner explained.
So every few weeks she travels from her home in Seattle to the Providence Cancer Center in Portland to participate in a research study led by Dr. Brendan Curti.
“This particular treatment that she’s currently getting is actually a genetically modified virus,” said Dr. Curti.
Doctors inject the virus directly into the tumors which, in turn, infects the melanoma. The goal is to get Ashley’s own immune system to fight the infection.
“The hope is that the immune response would be so strong that it will eradicate the melanoma cells however they may be in the body,” said Dr. Curti.
He said it was too early to tell if the treatment was working on Trenner. But she remains hopeful and is using her experience to teach others about the dangers of tanning.
“I told my best friend I didn’t care if I died, as long as I died tan,” Trenner admitted.
As the fight for her life continued, she wished she had never said those words.
May is skin cancer awareness month.
Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Providence Portland Medical Center is hosting a free skin cancer screening.
Click here for more information