Tears began to stream down her cheeks as Emily Messerli told listeners how skin cancer took her husband's life.
The California woman spoke at a Wednesday event at the Capitol kicking off a legislative effort to protect children from cancer caused by indoor tanning. The Missouri Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Coalition is behind the push.
He was 35 in July 2012 when Kelly David Messerli noticed a new mole behind his left ear and went to a doctor. Because the mole was only on the outer layers of skin, Emily and David thought he was out of danger of developing cancer. However, a few months later, the lymph nodes in his neck swelled.
Tests revealed he had stage 4 cancer, which meant it had spread to other organs throughout his body. In March 2013, he received a chemotherapy treatment, but the 36-year-old man died the same month. The couple had three children 5-year-old twins and a 10-year-old son.
Kelly was a police officer and served oversees in Iraq. He was a father, son, brother, uncle and friend to many people.
"Kelly encouraged everyone to get their skin checked after he was diagnosed," Emily said Wednesday. And he warned about the dangers involved when teenagers use tanning beds, she added.
"Kelly used tanning beds as a teenager before he knew of the harm they would do," she said. "As a teenager, it was just the thing to do."
House Bill 1260, sponsored by state Rep. Nick Shroer, R-O'Fallon, would increase the restrictions on youth use of tanning beds. The bill, which had not been assigned to a committee as of Wednesday afternoon, would prohibit anyone younger than 18 from using a tanning bed or other tanning device regardless of parental permission. It also would require operators of tanning facilities to obtain permits to operate and to post a notice developed by the Department of Health and Senior Services.
"The plain fact is indoor tanning beds cause cancer," said Rebecca Chibnall, assistant professor of dermatology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Chibnall said indoor tanning beds have the same designation as a carcinogen given to tobacco products.
The bill "shields our teens from the harmful effects of UV tanning," Shroer said. "Protecting our teens from the harmful effects of UV tanning not only protects our teens but protects taxpayers as well."
Data show the rate of Missouri residents developing melanoma — skin tumors characterized by malignant growths — has doubled in the past nine years.
A statewide Public Opinion Strategies poll shows about 82 percent of Missourians know tanning devices increase a person's risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer. The study also found three-quarters of Missourians favor legislation to prohibit children under 18 from using tanning beds, according to the coalition.
Susie Ailor, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, refutes the misconception indoor tanning is safer than being under the sun.
She pointed out, data show 30 percent of Missouri teenagers use tanning beds — about twice the national rate of 16 percent.
"These are facts," she said. "This cancer kills. It has the potential to kill."