Diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer in May 2013, Gallery on the Square artist Ruth Money decided to turn her battle into art.
The 83-year-old Gainesville woman used the radiation mask molded to her face and shoulders as a therapeutic release for herself and inspiring artwork for others.
“The first reason to make the mold was for my own therapy,” Money said.
And Money understands the fear and uncertainty cancer patients face.
Money was first diagnosed with lung cancer following a routine X-ray when doctors found a tumor on her left lung. Money said the doctors doubted smoking was a factor in the onset of her tumor. She did smoke in her early years, but had been a nonsmoker for 50 years.
Registered nurse Alicia Harrison, who is the head, neck and lung cancer navigator for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, explained early diagnosis of lung cancer is normally incidental findings and 60 percent of people diagnosed have never smoked or have not smoked in many years.
“(Lung cancer) is hard to diagnosis early because usually there are no symptoms and it goes undetected,” she said.
Money’s doctors recommended surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation as the best treatment for her.
Since radiation was the final step in Money’s fight, a mask for her head and upper shoulders had to be made, she said. Leaving her fate in the hands of the doctors she entrusted, Money knew the mask was something she had to do.
“They heat it to a high temperature and put it over your face and shoulders and mold it,” Money said, “and then they make it a frame.”
Patients who have to undergo radiation in areas from the neck up must be molded to a mask to hold them perfectly still during the procedure.
“It holds their head in the exact position and perfectly still for every treatment, and that allows them to put the beams of radiation in exactly like they need to,” Harrison said.
Every time Money went to radiation, the mask was placed over her head and shoulders and she was buckled down to a table.
“There were holes in it so that I could breathe and talk if I needed to,” she said, “but I tried to lie perfectly still.”
With radiation complete and her battle through, Money requested to take the mask home. She found it fascinating.
“I brought it home and I looked at it for a while and I decided to make a mold out of the mask,” she said.
Money wanted to decorate the mold and add words meaningful to her and encouraging to others.
Working with a friend, the two came up with a way to make a mold using plaster of Paris. She ended up making two molds — one for the hospital and one for her home.
“(The) one at the hospital has many different colors and a teardrop arrangements all around it and then it has writing all over it,” Money said. “It says in random form, ‘every hug, every kiss, every friend, every, every matters,’ and matters is across the front in big letters.
“It was my way of sort of thanking everyone throughout the ordeal.”
The mold is inside the radiation center at NGMC and is an inspiration to other cancer patients.
The second mold has very bright splotches on a dark blue background and in small letters says “No man is an island.”
“(T)he nurses say that so many people are afraid of the darn thing and they felt that this might be a way to get their mind in another direction and thinking about the mold in a different way,” she said
Being a survivor, Money one day would like to help others who may want to turn their mold into a piece of art that symbolizes their victory over cancer, but she is still in the beginning stages of planning future workshops.