Superhero Masks: Empowering Children in Cancer Treatment
Photo Cred: Janica Smit | Supplied

Discover how painted superhero masks are transforming the cancer treatment experience for children, instilling courage and resilience in the face of adversity.


spar hero of the week

South Africa (20 February 2024) – Over the past five decades, substantial advances in available treatments have led to large improvements in childhood cancer survival rates which have increased from 30% in the 1960s to now up to 80% in most countries.

Despite this, the treatment journey for children diagnosed with cancer may be daunting and uncertain.

Janica Smit, the radiotherapy lead at Life Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria, noticed a common thread among her young patients—a palpable anxiety during their radiotherapy sessions. The culprit? The formidable thermoplastic mask, designed to immobilise them during treatment. Alone in the bunker, these children grapple with their fears as they confront the daunting reality of cancer treatment.

Driven by a mission to alleviate this distress, Smit embarked on a journey to reimagine the radiotherapy experience for her young charges. Drawing inspiration from innovative practices around the world, she stumbled upon a beacon of hope: painting the masks to resemble superheroes.

“I delved into research, seeking solutions to enhance the journey for our pediatric patients,” she shares. “While some institutions opt for general anaesthesia to ensure stillness during treatment, I was captivated by the idea of infusing creativity into our approach.”

Navigating the complexities of medical safety, Smit meticulously selected paints devoid of substances that might react adversely with radiation. Collaborating closely with the medical physics team, she forged ahead with her vision, determined to transform mundane masks into symbols of courage and resilience.

Superhero Masks: Empowering Children in Cancer Treatment
Photo Cred: Janica Smit | Supplied

The process is labour-intensive, requiring patience and precision. Each mask undergoes a metamorphosis over two nights, as layers of paint bring beloved characters to life. From the iconic Spiderman to beloved Barbie, every stroke of the brush symbolizes a child’s journey from vulnerability to valour.

And the impact has been profound. Since the inception of the painted masks, not a single child has required general anaesthesia.

“I started with this special project to help reduce my patient’s stress levels. By allowing them to wear the mask of their favourite hero, they’re encouraged to be brave and to face their fears.”

Indeed, the significance of Smit’s endeavour resonates deeply as we united to commemorate International Childhood Cancer Day on February 15, 2024.

In the face of adversity, may we always find the strength to embrace our inner superheroes and emerge victorious against the darkest of foes.

Sources: Janica Smit
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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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