I have cancer. And, what's worse is there is no doubt I had something to do with it.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most prevalent skin cancer in the United States -- 3 in 10 Americans will be diagnosed with it in their lifetimes. Considering my generation's proclivity to bronze, I expect that number to grow.

My thirst for a perennial glow was insatiable as a teenager: I'm of Welsh and German descent and am naturally fair skinned. But now I'm spotted with freckles and moles from the many sunbathing sessions that burned and blistered my skin. When it peeled, I would take pleasure in pulling off the sheets of dead skin.

Winter? Balderdash -- my first job was as a booth babe who escorted fellow bronzers into second-rate tanning beds. I, too, would bake in the 20-minute booths until my body cried out in tingles and redness.

Fifteen years later, at 29, I find myself in a dermatologist's exam room being handed the Cancer Club card.

I will be fine, the doctor said. One surgery here and some checkups there; I will live to bronze another day. But because I am young, it likely will be back.

One would think that Americans have been educated enough to stop burning themselves in the quest for the perfect tan. But I'm not so sure. I lost my lust for the sun years ago when I realized wrinkles were a real threat. Vanity drives most measures, I've found. Now I'm one of the few among my friends who wear and reapply sunscreen. Forget asking them to cover up or join me underneath the umbrella.

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Sun worshippers of all ethnicities need to take note of the damage caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet rays. Don't put yourself through the agony of what the Cancer Club could mean -- sickness, hair loss and even death. Reduce your risk and follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recommendations.

In case you've forgotten: Use sunscreen SPF 15+ and reapply often; limit time in the sun, especially when the rays are most intense, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and wear clothing that covers skin.

After hearing my tale, several friends have scheduled dermatologist appointments. Don't wait for a loved one to suffer my fate. Protect yourself; stop bronzing and start lotioning.