This March, St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network announced the launch of their oncology paediatric mask project. Young patients who are receiving radiotherapy at St Luke’s Hospital for certain cancer types such as head and neck cancers and brain tumours require a fitted mask placed over their head and/or shoulders during treatment.
These masks, specifically moulded for each child, enable radiotherapy to target the precise tumour area. Wearing this mask, which is fastened onto the treatment bed, can be challenging at any age, let alone for children.
In 2021, Dr Natalie Hession, Principal Psychologist in St Luke’s Hospital, approached Ema Staunton, Arts Co-ordinator in St Luke’s, to explore the possibility of decorating the children’s masks so they would be less distressing and intimidating. Initial research carried out by Ema revealed that a play therapist at St James’s Institute of Oncology in Leeds, Lobke Marsden, had begun painting treatment masks with children’s favourite TV or superhero characters. This initiative has helped lessen the distress of patients during treatment and the project is proving to be very successful.
Conversations then began with Edel Dempsey (Paediatric Radiation Oncology CNS), Kevin Fogarty (Medical Physicist), Lobke Marsden (Play Therapist) in St James’s Institute of Oncology in Leeds and the Art Department in St Luke’s Hospital.
Following several months of samples and testing paint layers and toxicity in St Luke’s, a safe way to paint the masks was finally reached. Only three thin layers of paint can be used, but it was discovered that certain markers are also suitable. Recognisable characters such as Spiderman and Princess Jasmine were created. Ema Staunton oversaw the project, working with Alison McGrath (Arts Facilitator), to complete all the samples for testing.
The Art Department is now in a position to receive requests from young patients for their treatment mask to be painted. The project provides a less daunting experience for patients and hopefully brings an element of fun and ownership associated with their treatment mask. The painted masks are offered to the patients to take home at the end of their treatment.
Dr Hession noted that the painted masks will reduce possible anxiety surrounding mask-wearing by associating the mask with something familiar and enjoyed by the young patient. At the same time, the masks may also offer a sense of pride for patients in completing their treatment, which in turn creates a more positive memory of an otherwise very challenging and difficult experience.
St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network
Since it opened in 1954, St Luke’s Hospital in Rathgar, Dublin, has been caring for cancer patients from all over Ireland. In 2005, the then Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, TD, announced plans to develop a national network for radiation oncology services. As a result, in 2007, the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) was established. Under the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2010, St. Luke’s Hospital became part of the HSE and later part of the St. Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network. The network operates from three locations in Dublin – St Luke’s Hospital, Rathgar and St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Units in St James’s and Beaumont Hospitals. www.stlukesnetwork.ie