When 10-year-old Brandon MacKenzie prepared to start his treatment for a brain tumour at the QEII’s James and Edna Claydon Radiation Treatment Clinic, he knew he’d have to spend a long time fastened to a table with his head held in place by a mask. His mind naturally turned to his masked hero, Rey Mysterio, professional wrestling star.
Jennifer DeGiobbi and Tasha McMaster, both QEII radiation therapists, got to work creating a customized treatment mask for Brandon — painted to look like Mysterio’s.
As the major radiation treatment facility in Nova Scotia, the QEII’s clinic cares for adult and pediatric patients. The team started painting masks to make treatment fun for their young patients and it soon became an option for adult patients as well.
“We started creating the masks so children have something to look forward to on their first day. We hope that it makes coming for their radiation treatments less scary,” Jennifer says. “For parents of children on treatment, seeing their child excited to see their masks, and not afraid to come in for treatment, can ease some of the anxiety they may have as well.”
Brandon’s mother, Heather, took a few photos of the boy and the mask and emailed them to family back in Port Hood, Cape Breton. A nephew posted them on social media and “three days later, more than 30,000 people had looked at the pictures,” she says.
Word got to Mysterio and he arranged to call Brandon, who instantly recognized his hero’s voice. “I just couldn’t believe it. I told him I’m really sick. He said well, you’re not going to do it by yourself, you’re going to do it with me,” he says.
Mysterio rushed to his local post office with a box stuffed with wrestling figures, shirts, towels, DVDs and even Ray Mysterio pajamas. He couriered the parcel to Cape Breton so Brandon would get it before treatment under the mask started.
But the best part? Mysterio included one of his actual masks — one that he’d worn in the ring. Brandon could still smell his cologne when he put it on.
“He told him they were going to be a tag team and beat this tumour,” Heather says. “He told him to take the mask every time he comes for his treatment so he knows he’s with him.”
Brandon, known as Big B to his friends, says the mask fits him perfectly.
The good news keeps coming for the MacKenzies. Brandon’s tumour is benign, and his last MRI showed the tumour stopped growing.
Raymond Wright, manager of radiation therapy at the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre, says anxiety is common for kids and adults who start treatment. That’s why staff do everything they can to set the patients at ease.
“We’re trying to make the treatment journey a little easier for the patient,” he says.
Dr. Rob Rutledge, QEII radiation oncologist, says the painted mask “pulls the kids out of the cancer world and back into their world of imagination. For them to be able to look forward to something that’s fun within the cancer experience can really make a huge difference.”
Dr. Rutledge treats about 25 children a year and sees about 70 per cent of them cured. Rutledge calls the advances in treatment for kids with cancer one of the huge successes in recent medical history.