These Superhero-Themed Radiation Masks Comfort Kids Diagnosed With Cancer
Undergoing radiation therapy for cancer can be scary, especially for young children. And wearing the claustrophobic radiation masks used during treatment can be even scarier. To make the process less traumatizing — and much cooler — for young patients, two former art students, Hilary Sturrock and Fiona McCulloch, who now work as clinical technologists, started designing character and superhero-themed radiotherapy masks.
The idea for the masks started in the U.K., when Lorraine Whyte, a practice education radiographer for the NHS, approached Sturrock and McCulloch. She told them about two centers in England that were painting radiotherapy masks, and wanted to know if they would be interested in doing the same thing at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Center in Glasgow, Scotland.
With their art backgrounds and a burning desire to use their skills creatively, both women said yes. They started using water-based acrylic paint to create the custom-fit masks.
“We sat and did a couple of practice masks — a butterfly and the Hulk — and it all took off from there,” Sturrock told The Mighty. “We paint whatever the child requests, anything from wild animals to fairy gardens.”
The first mask created was painted by McCulloch for a child who had to have general anesthesia for every appointment. She loved the mask, and soon after wearing it, no longer required sedation.
Sturrock’s favorite reaction comes from a 15-year-old who initially said he was “too old” to have a mask painted. After several weeks of treatment and only a few days of radiation left, she received a call that he had changed his mind.
The patient was a big comic book fan and had requested a Spider-Man mask, so Sturrock decided to paint a scene from a comic. From the feedback she heard, she thinks she hit the nail on the head.
“The most encouraging thing about this was that apparently the patient always closed their eyes when they were having treatment,” Sturrock says. “Now that the design was painted, they could see the reflection of their mask in the treatment machine and had their eyes open throughout the time, watching Spider-Man as the machine head moved around them.”
To date, the clinical technologists have painted seven masks, including characters such as Batman, the Hulk, Pikachu and more. An eighth mask is currently being developed.
Sturrock hopes the masks continue to help and inspire patients and their families. “I am always in awe of how strong and determined these children are, for what they endure and in how much they trust,” she said. “We will continue to paint as long as it is required, and have no problems painting masks for whoever will benefit from it — young or old.”
All photos courtesy of Hilary Sturrock