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Flourish Magazine: Photography – Moving Masks by Nancy Epton

23 Oct 2023

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As part of each issue of Flourish Magazine, we release weekly digital content alongside our free print magazine, on the Artlift and Yes to Life blogs. This is often content we couldn’t fit into the magazine’s limited pages, or film and music, but loved and wanted to show the world.  

This issue of Flourish Magazine was on the theme of ‘Movement’, with submissions from those living with or beyond cancer received through an open call for creative responses to the theme.  

This week Nancy Epton presents a striking image of her radiotherapy masks in Moving Masks by Nancy Epton. Nancy writes below about the story behind the masks.

Read the print magazine online for free here, and watch this space for more digital content! 

Content Warning: This piece has references to radiotherapy and surgery. If you’re going through treatment and need support, please see the Resources section of our print magazine.

I was just out of hospital after recovering from a major operation when my parents got the call. Incidentally, I found out several years later that said operation (and my previous three operations) came attached with an approximate 5-10% death rate, and that my parents had to sign a disclosure form to acknowledge this possibility. I was 11 at the time, so these facts were kept in the dark. 

My much longed-for period of respite seemed to be put to an immediate stop by the call. Those plans to escape that hospital environment for a bit and lounge around the house? Gone. The call was from the radiotherapist. Instead of allowing the briefest of breaks, she wanted to get on with the treatment. Forget about that rest, then. Straight back to the hospital to start making the masks, some lovely cold layers of plaster of Paris on my face.  

Once all the practical preparations were sorted, I went straight into six intensive weeks of radiotherapy. While I got a couple of presents after treatment (some fancy socks, much appreciated), I was also allowed to keep both my masks, ghostly, disembodied and plastic as they were. 

Despite their inherently static purpose (they were literally crafted to keep my head as still as possible while I laid on my front and the laser did its magic – possibly the weirdest smell I’ve ever experienced, by the way), these pieces of plastic apparently moved a panel of judges, when I was awarded first prize for my photograph of them in a secondary school competition.  

More recently, the same image gained acclaim when I sent another image of them as part of an online discussion on health, advertised by my university supervisor at the time. Yes, those masks may be sitting up in the attic decaying, but I can’t deny the people they’ve moved since their creation.