Jennifer Cook works as a radiation therapist at the Greenville Health System’s Cancer Institute. When children come in for cancer treatments that involve the head, they are equipped with a radiation mask.
The mask is designed to keep a child’s head immobilized so that the radiation can target the area of the brain which is affected by cancer.
A standard mask is white, plastic, and scary for kids who are already dealing with something that causes severe anxiety. Cook decided that she could find a way to help. That’s when she started making handmade radiation masks that bring a little fun into the equation.
Superheroes Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Thankfully, brain cancer is very rare in children and adolescents. In the United States, about 5 cases are diagnosed from every 100,000 kids.
For those five children that are affected, however, the radiation treatments create a lot of anxiety. The masks for this therapy are used for every session to keep the amount of radiation treatment as low as possible. Some children are required to receive daily treatment for up to six weeks.
It takes such a toll on some kids that they are anesthetized before the treatment can begin.
Cook saw this and new she could make a difference. She began to turn them into princesses, Spiderman, Batman, and Mickey Mouse. Over the past seven years, she has painted a few Olafs and Elsas too.
When a new patient comes in for treatment, Cook speaks with the family and the child to see what they like. Then she takes their mask, paints on their preference in her own time, spending up to 30 hours on each mask.
This labor of love truly makes a difference.
“Coming to the doctor is always about needles and pain,” she told USA Today. “I wanted to make it fun. The kids really love it. It’s something they enjoy and can relate to, and it fills a creative interest I have.”
Going the Extra Mile for Each Patient
Cook does more than paint a basic character on the mask. She puts in small details that make it come to life for each child. For a recent Star Wars mask, Cook painted on plenty of starships. For a Batman mask, she added a miniature skyline of Gotham City with intricate details.
When children are asked to endure 30+ radiation treatments, it is these unique details that make a world of difference.
Many families hang up the mask that Cook creates for them at home after finishing the treatments. Even though the mask could be a negative reminder of cancer, the artwork is so fantastic that it serves as a reminder of personal success.
In a world where we see the negative every day, it is important to remember that there are people like Jennifer Cook. She gives of herself to make children happy during some of their darkest hours.
That is something which we can all celebrate.