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Managing the Radiation Therapy Mask

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radiation therapy mask

If you are having radiation on your neck or head region, chances are you will be fitted for a mask for your radiation treatments. For some people dealing with the mask and being in an MRI machine can bring about claustrophobic feelings. These feelings are extremely common. The following are some tips on dealing with the mask.

1) The feelings of constraint are in your head- nothing bad is going to happen. You lay still every night for hours. It is 20 minutes of relaxation. You deserve relaxation!

2) Struggling with control is natural- having other people strap your face to the table on their time frame is a great way to have a panic attack and start claustrophobic feelings. Radiation time is your time. You are the patient. You can do things during your time frame within reason. My first day was tough because I didn’t want to slow my caregivers down. I put their concerns ahead of mine. I laid down, the next thing I knew I had my face strapped to a table and I lost it. I had to have the mask removed 3 times during my session and I was confident that I was not going to make it through another session. The second day I took control. I asked my radiation technicians to give me a couple minutes by myself and I would call for them. I laid on the table. I put the mask on my face without having it strapped. I just got used to it. I put some pressure on the mask with my hands to simulate the feeling of when the mask was bolted. I got relaxed and focused on my breathing. Then I called the radiation techs in the room when I was ready. They strapped the bolts on the top at first when I told them I was ready. Then I told them to bolt the bottom by my chin. It was a completely different situation when I was calling the shots. I made it through my 20 minutes with flying colors.
3) Create a support system- I thought I was pretty tough so I didn’t want my wife to go with me. That was a mistake. After my lousy first day I asked my wife to go with me. The bottom line- my wife helps me relax better than any drug. I was an idiot for not having her go with me the first day.

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EmpowHER Guest

I had my 1st Mask fitting on Thursday prior to 35 sessions beginning on 14th Sept. I flipped and simply asked them to stop and ended the session then and there. I found the mask not a problem it was the fact my shoulders were fastened down too. I am to speak to my Dr Tuesday with another provisional run planned that morning. I have spoken to staff about Sedative Midazolam and will be asking Doctor if this can be prescribed. Also wondering if the shoulder part of Mask could be removed. Radiotherapy is my only treatment option as Tumour is too big for surgery. Good luck to us all in the battle of the Mask.
David Green Leeds UK

September 4, 2015 - 3:07pm
EmpowHER Guest

I am starting this on Monday the16. I have only my nose open in the mask. Can I have my eyes and mouth uncovered? I thought I would loose it during the scan and waiting for the dr. T o read the scan. Any suggestions is appreciated

June 11, 2014 - 6:24pm
EmpowHER Guest

I had a similar panic experience. I asked for a trial run on the bed with the mask locked in place, without going under radiation, and a demonstration on how I could unlock one side of the mask in an emergency. Simple conditioning. That was all I needed to overcome my fear. Our "emergency" plan was that I would ask the attendant to stop the RT, and then I would unlock the mask. Just the knowledge that I could "escape" along with the experience of remaining with the mask in place for the required time was sufficient. Interesting that none of the information on RT that I've read makes any mention of this technique. I remained in the clinic until there was an opening in the schedule in order to do my trial run. The RT staff cooperated and were very pleased with the result. Simple "conditioning" is common sense. Guess most of the radiation oncology professsion doesn't have time for such nonsense

May 11, 2013 - 11:32am

I to struggle with the claustrophobic feeling when the mask is put on. Then it seems like it takes the technician 10 minutes to start the treatment. I pray a lot and breath through my teeth to calm myself down. I am always so glad to hear that first click when I know the machine is getting ready to move to the first position of the five...then it is only a matter of a few minutes and I am done. They also have the ceiling tiles above the table painted so it gives me something to look at. But the best thing for me is to spend that 20 minutes or so praying for my family and friends. I know I am going to be okay,,,this is just six weeks of inconvenience right now but it wont last forever. Would love to hear from anyone else dealing with Parotid Gland Cancer.

March 17, 2013 - 10:29pm
EmpowHER Guest

The suggestion on having the hole put in the mask for your mouth is great. I found this helped immesely with my claustrophobia. No, the tranquilizer didn't really help.
Another way I took control is I brought my favorite CD for each session. The technicians loved it! They never knew if it would be John Denver, The Beatles or any number of other groups. It really helped me relax during sessions that sometimes seemed to take too long.

October 11, 2011 - 12:47pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for your blog. It certainly helps to read how someone else found a way to cope with the mask. After two treeatments, and knowing 33 await me, I really need to find a way to be at peace with this mask. Right now I just hate it and I know I have to get my thoughts in a better place and soon! Again, thanks for your courage and for sharing. I pray for your good health.

May 17, 2010 - 4:01pm
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Thank you, Bobbie, these are valuable tips. And I'm glad, for your own good health, that you've created your own support system and now bring your wife with you. :-)

I hope you'll keep in touch and share more tips as continue your treatment. We wish you the best. Take good care, Pat

January 20, 2010 - 5:45pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.