May 11, 2015 5:52 pm
Updated: May 11, 2015 6:09 pm

Painted masks help young patients fight brain tumours


Above watch: Young brain tumour patients are getting a boost of confidence and bravery thanks to a new program that paints the masks they wear during radiation. Julia Wong explains.

HALIFAX – A new program at the Nova Scotia Health Authority is giving young brain tumour patients a boost of confidence as they undergo radiation therapy and it’s thanks to a bit of art.

Brandon Mackenzie, 10, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in mid-March. He started radiation last month.

Mackenzie needs to lie still as he undergoes the therapy. Staff put a mask on him that restricts his movement so the radiation can precisely hit the tumour. However the mask also helps his state-of-mind.


“You can think of this as bloodless surgery,” said radiation oncologist Dr. Rob Rutledge. “We need the person to stay extremely still so we can treat the tumour and spare the surrounding normal brain.”

But staff are now doing something different: beginning in January, they started painting the masks for their pediatric patients. Each mask is specially tailored to the patient.

Co-creator and radiation therapist Jennifer DeGiobbi got the idea from an Ottawa hospital she was working at several years ago.

“If they’re girls, they’ve asked for things like flowers and hearts, the colour pink or the colour purple,” she said.

“We’ve done one with a scene with flowers, frogs and ladybugs.”

Brandon’s mask is green and black and painted like a mask worn by WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio.


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“It’s really cool and it’s my favourite colour,” he said. “I felt awesome. He’s my hero.”

“I felt like a wrestler.”

DeGiobbi said the painted masks give patients something extra when they come in for radiation.

“Hopefully it will ease some of their anxiety. I think it’s creating an environment where we’re taking care of them. It’s centering the care around them,” she said.

That is something Heather Mackenzie, Brandon’s mother, can attest to.

“His first radiation treatment, he just couldn’t wait to get here to see what his mask looked like,” she said. “He thought it was pretty cool he was going to look like Rey Mysterio.”

Mackenzie said the painted mask proved to be a distraction not only for Brandon but his family.

“It became so positive. Everything that was going on around him, that was really going on, went on the backburner,” she said.

“It made us all forget about what was going on and made everything so much more exciting for him.”

Brandon has nearly completed his 28 radiation treatments; his last one is Thursday.

When the 10-year-old wraps up, he will head home to Port Hood, N.S. and will keep his painted mask as a souvenir.

Rutledge said there are plans to keep the painted mask program moving forward. Staff recently applied for a grant from the QE2 Foundation to continue the program.


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