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Date: Nov 14, 2013

Radiation therapists ease cancer treatments for children by decorating protective masks

Decorated masks to be displayed at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, along with hats and beads to help pediatric cancer patients

Children undergoing radiation therapy for cancers are required to wear protective, immobilizing masks during treatments to keep them in the proper position. For pediatric cancer patients, these masks can add to the anxiety and fear they are already experiencing during their life-saving treatment. However, two radiation therapists at North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Department of Radiation Medicine have been easing that anxiety and fear by painting the masks, according to a child’s preference, with the faces of superheroes or other characters. A collection of the painted masks is now on display at the Hofstra North-LIJ School of Medicine.

The artists, Dennis Deller and his wife, Audra Deller, of Mount Sinai, both radiation therapy technicians in the Health System’s Department of Radiation Medicine, say that the emotional comfort the custom-painted masks bring to their pediatric patients is transforming.

“We couldn’t have predicted the magnitude with which these young patients benefit from the masks,” said Dennis. “The happiness the decorated masks bring to them not only alleviates feelings of fear, but also reduces the need for sedatives during the treatment.”

“The masks enable more pediatric patients to finish their course of treatment, with fewer interruptions,” said Audra.

“These displays and the stories behind them are a wonderful gift to our medical students,” said Dr. Lawrence Smith, Dean of the School of Medicine. “The people who created these items are teaching a valuable lesson about truly caring for the whole patient. I am honored that they have shared their work with us.”

The Dellers say that the patients and their families always express sincere gratitude for their efforts and for making a difficult time in their lives just a little easier.

The mask display is part of a larger display at the School of Medicine of items created by radiation therapy technicians at the Health System.

Bead Program
Also on display at the School of Medicine in the Health Sciences Library are colorful beaded necklaces with a story to tell.

The necklaces are part of The Bead Program, which was created and funded by The Sarah Grace Foundation for Children with Cancer. Alison Hochhauser, LCSW, OSW-C, of the Department of Radiation Medicine directs the program at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. The program is designed to document and honor the journey that children and adolescents embark upon when they are diagnosed with cancer. The necklaces provide a chance for the children to tell their stories using colorful beads as meaningful symbols of many points along a treatment path, including Radiation Therapy.

Colored beads, each representing a different aspect of care, are given each time a child/adolescent comes into the Radiation Medicine Department. See the bead description guide and corresponding meanings on the accompanying poster.

Try identifying some of the beads of one of the necklaces on display. It becomes a moving journey for the observer to identify the beads and pause to reflect on that child’s cancer treatment journey.

For more information about the Bead program, visit www.thesarahgracefoundation.org

Pediatric Hat Program
The crocheted winter hats on display at the School of Medicine may be cute and warm, but they have a much more important purpose than to simply warm a head.

These hats were created by Janine Lipari, a radiation therapy technician, who customizes them for pediatric cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Radiation treatment rooms need to be kept cold to ensure the proper functioning of the machines, and patients must remain immobilized on a hard table for several minutes. In addition, many patients undergoing radiation therapy experience hair loss, which can make the cold temperatures even harder to bear. Lipari recognized the need to provide both physical and emotional comfort for young patients, and so she created the Pediatric Hat Program.

On her own time and at her own expense, Lipari creates knitted hats for patients to wear. She customizes the hats according to a child’s request. She even has a hat catalog for patients and their families.

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