I Could Almost Have Been Dead By Now

Like many who grew up in Australia on the Mornington Peninsula, I spent much of my childhood outdoors, having adventures in our rural neighbourhood or down at the creek; and our Summer days were spent at the beach.
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I loved the water – body surfing, swimming or snorkelling and rowing in the Gillespie’s dinghy, the Gypsy Queen. Our mothers wouldn’t allow us to return to the water during the hour after eating lunch for fear of cramps and drowning, so that was when I would make my sculptures while others sunbaked.

In the sand at Kunyung beach, I made life sized boats and lizards, and castles with moats that filled as the tide came in. At Sunny Side beach I used the indigenous clay to make faces that gazed out from the huge brown boulders – keeping guard and daring any unwary beachcomber to pass between them.

Childhood was a time of slow paced holidays and fun. I thank my mother for the freedom we had and for keeping us safe. She kept watch on the water while we were swimming – making sure we didn’t drown and always on the lookout for a shark’s dorsal fin.

We received regular pep talks on a range of subjects, such as not talking to strangers, or that we should stamp our feet when trekking through the bush and how to step over a log safely so we didn’t get bitten by a snake. (They were active in spring, summer and autumn, so it was important to be vigilant.)

Another delight of our childhood was peeling shreds of skin after being sunburnt. Who could impress with the largest piece of skin peeled off while waiting in a line at school? Everyone got burnt and even those with skin that tanned peeled off a couple of layers each season. There was no sunscreen then.

Our mothers took such selfless care of us, but none had any idea of the long term damage being done while we played outdoors in the Australian sun. In our middle years many of us have developed cancers on our skin. The most aggressive are malignant melanomas –

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– and that is what was removed from my face some months ago. The doctor told me it was good that I had noticed that the freckle on my face had changed shape and subsequently followed through with having it checked.

He said I would have been dead within six months, had I not had it removed.

The biopsy report indicated all cancer and precancerous cells were cut out. But I’ll be back at the specialist every three months for a while, having full body checks to ensure no further spots appear. I wear a scar but I don’t mind. I am alive.

So why am I writing about this on my Arts blog? – because I know what it’s like when photographers, artists and writers in the field get involved with a project. Our focus is on the creative process and we often forget about looking after ourselves.

I urge you to do your own preliminary skin checks. And I urge you not to disregard any suspicious spots you may find or any that change appearance, such as changing shape or colour, or (like mine) changing size with no clear edge to the shape. Do seek medical help and don’t leave until it’s too late.

And best yet, take steps for prevention. As we teach our children: slip slop slap (slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat) and stay out of the sun in the middle of the day.

And if UV rays aren’t an issue where you live, have you taken care of your other needs while being creative?

*How is your posture?
*Is it time for a break?
*Have you been staring at the same focal distance for too long?
*Should you rest your eyes?
*Have a stretch / massage?
*Go for a walk?
*Drink some water?
*Eat some food?
*Maybe do some half-push-ups against the bench(counter) while waiting for the kettle to boil?
*Do you need to relax and –

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*Are you being SunSmart?

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