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Artists decorate 'cancer masks,' turning patients into superheroes

Bland meshed white masks cover the face and as low as the upper torso of a cancer patient and are then bolted onto a radiotherapy table to prevent that area of the body from moving during radiation treatment for the neck up.

The bleak and constrictive design resembles something that Hannibal Lecter might wear, accentuating the nightmarish realities of cancer.

But when the Florida Suncoast Decorative Artists get hold of one, they use their creative talents to turn the villainous facade into something heroic by painting the radiation mask with the face of a fantasy word icon who embodies bravery and peace, such as Superman, Spider-Man, Snow White or Cinderella.

"We hope our masks give them the courage, comfort and hope they need," Tampa's Nancy Kirkpatrick, 83, the group's philanthropic co-chairman, said.

Even some adults have asked for and been provided these specially designed masks.

"A parent with kids has fears too," said 62-year-old New Port Richey resident Georgia Mazanet, the chapter's president. "If we can bring something pleasant to their treatment, we will."

The group designs these for Florida Hospital Tampa and requests come via the medical facility's staff, so despite doing this for a year the Florida Suncoast Decorative Artists have yet to meet one of the patients, see firsthand the joy their volunteer work brings, or be directly thanked.

No matter, these women say, this is not about them.

"We are creating something that brings joy to someone in tough times," philanthropic chair Jean Archer, 82 and of Tampa, said.

But Anthony Cappellini, director of volunteer services at Florida Hospital Tampa, has witnessed the change in a cancer patient's attitude upon seeing their once white masks turned into the face of a character they idolize.

"It will make you cry when you see the joy they bring," he said. "It is a very scary time for the child.

"The masks give them hope, make them feel safe and even empower them. They feel like the masks are a part of them."

The decorative radiation masks are just one of a quartette of artistic projects the 65 women who make up the Florida Suncoast Decorative Artists have taken on for area hospitals.

They also create "treasure boxes" decorated with art like characters from nursery rhymes or teddy bears for kids to keep toys and trinkets in while hospitalized at Shriners Hospitals for Children.

They teach art to stroke victims at Florida Hospital to help restore motor skills.

And then there is their saddest creation - memory boxes for parents who lost their infant. Inside, a grieving mom and dad can place a lock of their baby's hair or items like the hospital bracelet.

The group has been providing those to Florida Hospital for 15 years.

"We'd be happy if we never had to make any of this," Clarisse Castro, the chapter's publicity chairman and 72-year-old Lutz resident said as she waved to one a memory box decorated with four baby cherubs blowing horns that was sitting on her dining room table.

"Unfortunately, they are needed, even the memory boxes."

The Florida Suncoast Decorative Artists is part of the Society of Decorative Painters that has 330 chapters worldwide and more than 20,000 members.

This local chapter founded in 1991 meets monthly for an art lesson in a different genre.

All members — ages spanning teenage years through the 90s — may currently be women but that's not a requirement.

Some are experienced and professional artists, but hobbyists, amateurs and even novices are can join if they have a desire to learn.

And while taking part in the philanthropic work is not required of members, most partake.

"We get to share our talent with someone in need," Archer, the philanthropic chair, said. "That is a great privilege."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Artists decorate 'cancer masks,' turning patients into superheroes 05/16/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 11:04am]
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