How Radiation-Mask Art Helps Artists Heal, Grieve, and Honor Survivors

Courtesy of Andrew Pisula

The soft blue thermoplastic feels warm as it’s stretched against my head. We’re creating my radiation mask, molding it to the exact contours of my face to better protect me during radiation therapy for the pseudotumor behind my eye. For the next 15 days, the custom mask is bolted down to the table with me inside it, the plastic shell keeping me completely immobilized as a machine delivers beams of radiation. Trapped within the mask, I try my hardest not to panic. When the radiation runs its course, I receive a certificate signed by the entire therapy team, along with my big, blue mask. I let it haunt my coffee table for a while, until my mom finally yells at me to put it in a drawer.

For those dealing with various forms of cancer and illness, radiation masks are a common part of the experience, often serving as one of the most physical relics of the journey. Some burn their masks, and I don’t blame them. Others turn the masks into art.

Transforming a tangible reminder of illness and pain feels differently for everyone. The artists below describe the process as everything from cathartic to heartbreaking. Many use their own masks as their medium, tired of letting them rot in a dark corner. Others decorate donated masks as an act of service. From the original plastic armor blooms roses, lotus blossoms, and colorful landscapes. A previously clinical tool reimagined by semi-precious stones, fantastic colors, and a very human touch.

For now, my own mask is still collecting dust somewhere in my apartment. But radiation mask art reminds me that there’s beauty in even the darkest experiences. Read on to see how these six artists are finding it in their own ways, allowing them to grieve, heal, and create more light.

Related: Why I’m Not in Any Rush to Get Breast Cancer Tattoos

Related Posts
Latest Fitness
The End.

The next story, coming up!