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TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) -
"Back in the 80's, it was 'how tan and how blonde can you be?!' " said Andrea Licata Bernath.
It was that quest that landed Bernath on the other side of our cameras more than two decades later -- but let's start at the beginning.
Bernath was just 29-years-old when she was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma 12 years ago.
"Really when I was first diagnosed I didn't have a fear. You know, I thought I go to the dermatoligst and they could cut it out and I could be on my way," said Bernath.
But that just wasn't the case.
Bernath was diagnosed on a Thursday. On the next Monday she had her first surgery. In four and half hours doctors removed 16 percent of the muscle in her back, 42 lymph nodes, and 5 other sites they were concerned about. And she has the scars to prove it.
But she's not alone.
Nearly 77,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year in the US. And this cancer will kill more than 9,000 people.
"Even though I got, I had melanoma, I still wanted to be tan. So I started going to tanning facilities and trying other self tanner. And everything I tried turned me some shade of orange."
So, Andrea quit her job in sales and marketing for a Fortune 500 company and developed her own product for sunless tanning, Kahuna Bay Spray Tan.
The business started as a retail location but other spas and salons wanted the product. It didn't take long for Andrea and her business partner Chris to get out of the retail side and go strictly into distribution.
Now they are one of the industry leaders. Their sunless tanning products are used by celebrities, pageants, and network news agencies - and carried in more than 12,000 salons and spas around the world.
"We've had people from as far away as Japan come here to this tiny little facility."
Right now they currently employ 11 people in the Toledo area -- including several at the Kahuna Bay Spray Tan retail store, which opened this week in Sylvania. It's an exciting time -- but for Andrea it is also deeply personal.
"We get contacted by people who have been diagnosed with melanoma daily. And it's getting younger and younger. If these kids can be aware. If they can go sunless. Wear their sunscreen. We will do what we can to make them beautiful."
A Note From Emilie:
Andrea shared with me this YouTube clip called "Dear 16 Year Old Me." It is truly exceptional and no matter how old you are, I recommend taking the 5 minutes to watch it.