Talented Radiation Therapists Transform Radiotherapy Masks into Cancer Patients’ Favourite Characters
01 April 2020
To make cancer treatment as accurate and effective as possible, it is important to make a radiotherapy mask to hold the patient’s head and neck still and in exactly the right position each time the patient undergoes radiotherapy.
Most often, the radiation therapists will heat thermoplastic mask in warm water so that it becomes soft and pliable before putting the plastic mesh on to the patient’s face, ensuring that it fits the patient’s face exactly. As the plastic has lots of holes in it, It is still possible to breathe easily. The mask is taken off and is ready for use once the plastic mesh hardens.
After accompanying the patients for at least 33 radiotherapy sessions, these masks will usually be discarded after 3 months of inactivity as they no longer have a purpose to serve.
A recycling competition organised by Sunway Medical Centre in 2018 had inspired the radiation therapists to breathe a second life into the discarded radiotherapy masks. With paint and brushes, they transformed radiotherapy masks into colourful characters, winning praises for their creativity and efforts.
However, this highly personalised service was not officially launched until the radiation therapists met a 5-year-old girl in 2019.
According to senior radiation therapist Nur Idalia, patients are required to undergo 5 radiotherapy sessions at the hospital each week. The frequency makes many shudders, including some adults. However, a 5-year-old girl came to the hospital happily almost every day, unafraid of the challenges ahead. Her cheerfulness had moved the radiotherapists.
There are 4 radiation therapists at Sunway Cancer Centre. They paint masks whenever they can find time to do so. Nur Idalia is standing second from the right.
A head and neck cancer patient’s radiotherapy mask is not unlike a knight’s armour in battle - they are both protective. It also serves as a badge of honour, reminding the patient of their proud victory against the frightful opponent called cancer. As such, the radiation therapists decided to present the little girl with a personalised badge of honour during her last radiation therapy session.
As per the little girl’s request, the radiation therapists had painted a “Captain America” mask, changing the letter “A” on Captain America’s mask into “H” - the first letter of the little girl’s name - to celebrate her triumph over cancer. “We met our patients almost every day during their treatment. To us, they are our family. We would go the extra mile to assist them in every way we could during the journey of recovery. We used to give certificates to our cancer survivors. Now, we offer them personalised masks instead,” Nur Idalia said.
Usually, once the patients had chosen their desired character, the radiation therapists will start to look for photo samples on the Internet before starting to paint and colour the masks. “For example, to create a Spiderman mask, we only have to spray the mask with colour and draw the lines on it,” Nur Idalia explained. “If the character requested is of a more complicated nature, we need to first sketch it with a pencil first before colouring it with a combination of colours and spray. We would also have to outline it with a marker pen.
Nur Idalia and her team paint masks during their personal time. “No complaints there - we enjoy going above and beyond our duties for the patients,” Nur Idalia said. By painting the masks, it can transform the way the masks are viewed by the patient. It is no longer a clinical looking device but something that is personal to them. This can improve their radiotherapy experience.
Spending Time to Paint a Personalised Memorabilia
“Because of our painting service, many job applicants who came to interview for the role of radiation therapist had asked if it is a mandatory requirement for all Sunway Medical Centre’s radiation therapists to be artistically talented,” Nur Idalia added on with a laugh. “Actually, we view this free painting service as a blessing from the radiation therapists to the patients. It is not mandatory for all our radiation therapists to possess artistic talent.”
The tools required for mask painting include acrylic paint, paint spray and marker pens. The painting process for certain masks can be very complicated. The radiation therapists radiotherapists paint the masks patiently to create unique memorabilia for the patients.
The radiation therapists had painted many masks this year, such as Iron Man, Spiderman, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. So far, Nur Idalia and her team had not received any request for a Disney Princess mask. Nur Idalia admitted that there are characters that are impossible for her team to paint. If, after searching for images online and conducting numerous experiments, they were still unable to paint a requested mask, they would call the patient and ask them to choose other characters.
Although hand-painted masks are very popular, Nur Idalia revealed that not everyone finds it acceptable. “Some people view the mask is a bad omen. After all, cancer is a negative experience for most people, so they can be very reluctant to bring a radiotherapy mask home.”
Nur Idalia emphasised that cancer is not as scary as most people think it is - recovery is possible for most. “It is important to face a cancer diagnosis with positivity. This could increase the success rate and reduce side effects. Never forget that a 5-year-old girl once overcame the illness with high spirits. Have faith in yourself. ”
? The free mask painting service is only provided to the patients of Sunway Cancer Centre currently.
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