“A mask tells us more than a face.” ― Oscar Wilde

Pic: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s saw him become one of the most popular playwrights in London.

It’s common belief that the quote “A mask tells us more than a face” refers to the fact that a mask can disguise us, change our appearance and allow us to become something or someone else and this potential to make us more confident really does apply to the radiotherapy immobilisation mask. For most head and neck cases, an immobilisation mask means that as a patient we can be confident and relaxed that we are being treated in the correct position. For young children it gives additional reassurance and a comfort blanket that they are being assisted by a friend or hero to undergo treatment that otherwise they might not be able to endure.

And so when I noticed this article a few weeks ago with a link below on “superhero radiotherapy masks” being displayed at the Science Museum in London it immediately resonated with me. These bespoke masks are truly works of art and really innovative.

Leeds Children’s Hospital’s superhero radiotherapy masks go on display at British Science Museum

A Batman radiotherapy mask created for child cancer patients in Leeds has gone on display at London’s British Science Museum.

Picture: Thermoplastic masks on show at the Science Museum in London.

Read more: https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/health/leeds-childrens-hospitals-superhero-radiotherapy-masks-go-display-british-science-museum-1305698

Making masks

Having spent 6 years at Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood as the lead radiographer for mould room services and also prior to that spent many happy times as a student radiographer in the mould room at the Middlesex Hospital in central London, making masks was something that I guess I got some satisfaction from.

Initially these masks were made by taking a time-consuming plaster bandage impression of the patient’s head/neck and then vacuum forming a plastic sheet over a solid plaster of Paris positive model of the patient. This was a very uncomfortable and claustrophobic process to say the least for the patient especially when they were children.

However, I did implement some changes to our working protocols, taking impressions using a solid but pliable thermoplastic called Polyform that replaced the wet plaster bandages that set hard and hot. The Polyform was warm when applied and set cold very quickly so slightly less uncomfortable and much cleaner. We were also the first ever UK site to trial Orfit perforated thermoplastic, initially to make masks only for palliative cases, innovative to say the least and now the industry standard. The initial concern was unwanted patient motion while wearing the mask but that has been shown to be negligible if not of impact all. We also called the mask a shell, a term handed down from some of the more mature staff but mask was a better description in my opinion.

This is the person who saved my life!

I know that the innovation in painting and decorating thermoplastic masks has made the initial impression and subsequent wearing of them during treatment much more bearable for children as discussed in the article above but we didn’t have that option in the late eighties and so a clear plastic mask was mandatory for any radical head and neck treatment along with some psychological assistance, patience and gentle arm twisting!

Anyhow, what happened to me one late summer evening after work did have a reciprocal impact when playing cricket at Harefield for Eastcote, for what would now be a T20 match. (20 overs per side was invented in the late eighties believe it or not and is now the most popular form of the game) I was walking round the ground after the game when 2 ladies approached me, one it soon became apparent was a recent patient for whom I had made a mask. She introduced me to her friend as the man who had saved her life! In conversation she reminded me that she had refused radical treatment as was NOT going to have a mask made but I had convinced her over an extended period of hand-holding that it would all be fine. She had her treatment some months earlier in her mask and was now in complete remission and so that made my day twice over as we won the game too, which was the Middlesex county final if I recall. My personal mask had a big smile on for the rest of the day and as a therapeutic radiographer, hearing this kind of thank you if only just once in a career makes it all worth-while!

Interesting “Mask” quotations

While researching this blog I came across some other interesting quotes about “Masks” from either famous people or ones that were simply very thought provoking and so I have included some of them herewith:

“If you wear a mask for too long, there will come a time when you cannot remove it without removing your face.” – Matshona Dhliwayo

“Those who clap you on the back with one hand may clench envy’s mask behind theirs with the other.” – Stewart Stafford

“Every human within itself, at any point, is a mask holder.” – Ehsan Sehgal

“Sometimes it’s not the people who change, it’s the mask that falls off.” – Haruki Murakami

“Life is a mask through which the universe expresses itself.” – Frank Herbert

“Personality is a mask you believe in.” – Robert J. White

“Dignity is a mask we wear to hide our ignorance.” – Elbert Hubbard

Frequent flyer

But being a frequent business flyer the one I liked the most is this one below that could equally apply to the new outbreak of the Coronavirus whereby the wearing of a mask has now become as normalised as wearing a hat or a pair of glasses it seems. This may well be an unfortunate sign of things to come whereby all humans end up wearing a mask, not to change their identity but for what might be a matter of life or death whether by personal choice or authoritarian direction.

Make sure you have your own mask on, before helping others with theirs.” – Daniel Handler

Pic: Mask wearing woman. Do these masks protect you from a virus? It depends who you listen to.


Perhaps you could let me know which mask quote you like best and why or if you have another favourite that might equally apply in our world of radiotherapy and cancer treatment to admin@radpro.org.uk or @RadProwebsite on twitter where we can publish them on our social media feeds.

Duncan Hynd DCR(t) – March 2020