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Left: Raphael McGowan, who has invented a device to apply sunscreen to your back, and his mother, Bernie, are pictured at Angourie Point last week. Right: The Bakslap device in use. Images: Contributed.

Bakslapping to better health

Geoff Helisma | “It was the tragic loss of my beautiful sister Tess to melanoma skin cancer that inspired me to create the ‘Bakslap’,” says Raphael McGowan, who was in Yamba last week to visit his parents. Hi sister’s death in 2012 kick-started Raphael’s fundraising efforts through cycling and other events – since then he has raised more than $100,000 towards melanoma cancer research and prevention, with the endorsement of the Melanoma Institute Australia. “It’s my passion to keep her memory alive,” he says. Intent on doing more to help people reduce exposure to the sun, he has invented the Bakslap; a device designed to “apply sunscreen to our backs and hard to reach places on our bodies without the messy hands”. “I’m determined to prevent other families experiencing such a devastating loss,” he says. This story began in 2011: Raphael and two friends were on a cycling adventure across the USA when his father called with the news of his sister’s melanoma diagnosis – Raphael soon returned home. Tess, who was five months into her pregnancy, decided to not treat the cancer to prevent harming her baby. But following her daughter Mabel’s birth, it was discovered that the cancer had spread from Tess’s back, where it was first detected, and metastasised throughout her body. When Mable was a month old, Raphael moved in with his sister and her partner, Victor. “Managing Tess’s pain was the hardest part during those 11 months, especially in the final stages,” Raphael says. “What I found helped was just being there, to fill a water bottle, to heat a wheat pack up, adjust a pillow or massage Tess’s feet. “Tess eventually moved to palliative care at St Vincent’s’ in Sydney … it was confronting seeing Tess go through this, but it also motivated me to do something about melanoma.” In 2016, Raphael started IAM Products to develop the Bakslap – he says he began his “initial research by asking surfers questions at Turners Beach and Angourie”. Now, he is about four months into bringing the product to the market place. “We produced the mould in April,” he says. “We have a distribution warehouse on the Sunshine Coast [where he lives] and have retailers locked in on the Sunshine Coast, in NSW and overseas in Bali, Hawaii and the Bahamas. “We’ve also and had interest from Brazil and the UK, asking: how do we go about stocking this product?” The next step is to produce an initial run of the Bakslap, for which Raphael has set a ‘Kickstarter’ crowd-funding campaign, with the aim to raise $40,000 in 30 days and to have the product on the market this summer. While the campaign ends today July 25, Raphael says people can still make a contribution by making contact through the website. “I found that two of the main reasons people don’t apply sunscreen on their backs is because it’s hard to reach and we just don’t like getting messy hands,” he says. “It’s Tess who always inspires this mission and drives me to work as hard and as long as it takes to realise the dream of preventing unnecessary fatalities from melanoma and other forms of skin cancers globally.”