There is nothing fun about undergoing radiation treatment, especially for kids. But one University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics volunteer is using art to make the process just a little easier.
Weiren Liu, a medical student at UI Carver College of Medicine, decorates radiology masks for children and adults undergoing treatment. The masks are made of a plastic mesh and are molded to the face and upper torso of the patient. During radiation treatment, which normally takes about 15 to 20 minutes, the patient is secured to the table under the mask, which can be scary at any age.
But the decorated masks help. When a new patient comes in for treatment, they can request how they want their mask decorated. Liu covers the mask with a canvas of white tape, and illustrates it with the patient’s request. Sometimes they want a character, like a Minion, My Little Pony, or Spider Man; sometimes it’s a theme, like ocean, or John Deere.
“This one girl wanted a scary clown [mask], because her mom is afraid of clowns,” Liu says. “I thought that was a pretty good reason.”
The program began through the radiology department, after Jana Grienke, clinical department administrator of the Radiation Oncology Clinic of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, heard of a similar program at a Canadian hospital. She reached out to Volunteer Services to find an artist, and Liu was the perfect fit.
“Without Weiren, we couldn’t do it,” Grienke says.
Liu has not had a chance to see the pediatric patients’ reactions to his work, however. He hopes to have the opportunity to do so soon.
Grienke tells him stories of how his artwork is making the process easier for young patients. One young girl refused to be fitted for a radiation mask, until she saw pictures of Liu’s decorated masks. She immediately agreed to the treatment.
“That made me really happy,” Weiren says. “This is exactly the kind of effect we wanted to have with the patients.”
And it is not just helping the patients. Their reactions improve staff morale and ease the minds of parents.
“It’s hard when these little kids come in, but they think the masks are so cool,” Grienke says. “I think it’s helped to make the whole experience a lot less scary and helps the parents a little bit knowing we’re doing what we can to make this the best experience that we can.”