Mask decoration in pediatric cancer treatment has become a staple for Ingrid Degroodt. Ingrid is a nurse working in the Radiation Oncology Department of the University Hospital in Leuven, Belgium. She talks about how she got started with the decoration of pediatric immobilization masks and how it can make a difference for younger patients.
How did you come up with the idea to decorate the masks?
I studied oil painting at the SLAC academy in Leuven and during one of my visits to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, I noticed a flyer announcing a symposium on art and care. After attending this meeting and giving feedback about it at the department, I received an Orfit mask from the Head of nursing and was offered the opportunity to decorate it.
She and other colleagues were very impressed with the result, so I was asked to decorate more masks for children undergoing radiation therapy treatment. Many thanks to the Prince Albert Fund for providing me with painting materials.
What is the importance of decorating a mask for pediatric treatment?
It may reduce stress in these children during their treatment and make them more comfortable and relaxed. Being able to choose a subject or theme for the decorations makes the end result much more personal. It often makes both the children and their parents very happy.
Can you give an example of situations where this made a big difference?
A little while ago we noticed one of our patients, a 5-year-old girl – who had already received treatment for a few days – wasn’t able to relax on the treatment couch. Which made positioning and imaging of her bony anatomy difficult. Since she was quite fond of princesses, I decided to decorate her mask in a princess theme. Afterward, she was noticeably more comfortable, enabling the treatment procedure to run much more smoothly.
How do you go about selecting the theme and creating the decorations?
We ask the children what they like or prefer, for example, their favorite colors, themes, or characters. I remember one example of a little boy who had a favorite soccer player. After updating my soccer knowledge on the internet I made a design so that he could instantly recognize his idol. I also try to be original so that the drawing is as personal as it can be and the children are excited about it.
What kind of materials do you use and is this dependent on certain treatments?
I normally use acrylic paint, because it dries fast and because of its vibrant colors. The decorations are painted using different-sized standard brushes, and of course lots of love!
Is there an expression of concern about the quality of the treatment with the decorated masks?
The paint that we use has to be free of any metal particles. That’s because these could influence the delivery of radiation doses to the patient. Other than that there are no concerns and children can let their creativity run free!
Can the patient take his or her mask home after treatment or do they prefer not to?
Of course! Most children like to take their masks home after they’ve finished their treatment, as a memento or just because they like the drawings or designs.
Are you intrigued by these beautifully decorated masks and want to try this in your department? Follow the step-by-step tutorial for decoration of pediatric immobilization masks and don’t hesitate to share your decorated masks with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media.
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