THE MASK – A Story of Transformation

When faced with a life-threatening situation, it is the rare person who can look beyond their immediate survival and give thought to the notion that this experience could eventually be transformative. As should be, the focus is on the here and now, enabling all energies to be used to overcome whatever the challenge one is experiencing.

Clearly that is how my life was unfolding in February and March of this year as I went through almost two months of radiation and chemotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer. The debilitating effects of the treatment left no space in my mind to reflect on the “meaning” of what I was going through. In other words, it is quite difficult to be philosophical while in a state of nausea.

To ensure that the radiation is focused in the exact area of the head and neck where the cancer cells might be active, the technicians in the department of radiology mold a plastic “mask” that fully covers the head and top of the shoulders. The mask is used every day one has treatment and mine amounted to a total of 35 days.

Radiation Mask

Depending on your perspective, the mask can look quite ominous as it also has bolts that screw into the table upon which one is lying. The intention is to restrict head movement as there are so many areas where one wrong move could mean a permanent and significant disability. For example, damage to vocal chords would be devastating to me.

The radiation itself is not painful, however side effects that I still live with nine months later are loss of taste, drop in weight (40lbs,) lack of saliva and hearing loss in my left ear. The good news is that my overall sense of well-being has increased significantly, I am productive and fully engaged with clients and all my scans show no sign of cancer.

As you might imagine, the “mask” does not hold pleasant memories for me. Although I am very appreciative of the breakthroughs that have been made in curing cancer, it never occurred to me that anything transformative would ever come from being in the embrace of that mask for so long.

Someone else, however, saw the mask in a totally different way and had a vision for its use that I could never have imagined.

The fourth of my five children, Jessie, is an artist who I am pleased to say is getting increasing recognition for her unique work. On one of the trips to the hospital for treatment, Jessie was my driver. She took advantage of the opportunity to observe what I was experiencing, but on the way home enquired as to what happens to the mask once the treatment is over.

Now, if you have artistic children, or know artists, or you yourself are an artist, then it should be completely clear that artists’ brains explore worlds where no-one has gone before. This is especially true of Jessie, who once she discovered that the hospital threw the masks away, immediately laid claim to it.

There is a truism, at least for me, which suggests that parents should never ask their older children questions if there is a risk you may not like the answer. So my only counsel to Jessie was the following: “I have no idea what you are going to do with the mask but know one thing – I never want to see it again.”

As the months went by following my treatment, the quest to regain my health and strength absorbed all of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resources. What Jessie might be doing with the mask quite frankly never entered my mind until one night several weeks ago when I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

My partner, Cheryl, and I were participating in the St. Paul Art Crawl where Jessie was one of the featured artists. Of course, as any proud father would want to do, Jessie’s space was our first stop. Upon entering the room I was drawn immediately to a piece hanging on the far wall.

My eyes could not make out exactly what it was, but my visceral response was so great that I knew it was the mask.

I crossed the room very slowly as my emotions were running rampant. As the work of art came into full view, I was looking not at a symbol of my past but at a vision for my future.

On the wall – its eyes peering straight at me – was a magnificent eagle!

THE MASK - Transformed by Jessie McNally

The Mask - Transformed by Jessie McNally

Ah, how limiting our thoughts can be. Oh, what restrictions we place on the possibilities of what could be. Thank you, thank you, thank you for those whose imaginations transform the ominous into the magnificent.

I have no desire to interpret what this story might mean for you. But know this: Even those whose purpose is to encourage others face times when they themselves need to be encouraged. This year has been of those times for me. On one level the transformation of the mask into an Eagle needs no further comment. However, Jessie’s words on a plaque next to her work of art will inspire me forever.

“I believe that we all have totems that guide us through our lives. For my father, it is the eagle. It is a symbol of his spirit, vision and strength. I’ve made this work from my father’s radiation mask. This mask represents his enormous spirit, his vision of a healthy and cancer free life, and his unfaltering strength.”

From the TransForm Team we wish you a wonderful Holiday Season and may 2012 be Purposeful and Inspiring.

About David McNally

David McNally, CEO & President of TransForm Corporation
This entry was posted in Encouragement Corner and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to THE MASK – A Story of Transformation

  1. Pamela says:

    Hi David,
    I am so sorry to hear that you had to endure this ordeal but so happy to hear that you have made to the other side of healing.
    Congratulations! How wonderful that it was one of your children, Jessie, as an artist exploring with vision and meaning that was able to”transform” your experience.
    Blessings to you, your family and loved ones.
    Have a very Joyful Holiday season.
    Best wishes to you.
    Please greet dear Jessie for me.

  2. Tom Wentz says:

    Hi David,
    Great to hear you are doing well. God Bless and Merry Christmas

  3. Mark Hosmann says:

    What an inspiring story and beautiful work of art. I can only imagine how special that piece is to you. All the best to you and your family during this holiday season and may you have a much healthier and prosperous 2012.

  4. Patsy Ward says:

    David, I had no idea you went through treatment this year. This story touches me to the core. Jessie is indeed a gifted, visionary artist and she takes after her visionary, gifted Dad.

  5. Dave Reinhart says:

    Facinating—One mans trash is another mans treasure.

  6. Bob parks says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful “Mask” story. There certainly is a message in it for me. I am so thankful that you are winning your battle with cancer and that your spirit is still strong.
    Have a wonderful Christmas and a successful New Year!
    All the best, Bob

  7. David,
    Lately, for some unknown reason, I find myself much more emotional than I already was. I think I went through 3 kleenex while trying to finish your story. I believe my emotions towards your story, are what they are, because of the years of working with you, and your family, experincing what I did for the 5-6 years I worked with you and now, being completely out of touch. I do miss the McNally’s! Now in my life, the understanding of the statement, “Life is short,” has hit me hard this year in many ways and has given me a new outlook on life to enjoy as much time with friends and family as I can. I would love to make the time to see you again soon, but in the mean time, I am extremely happy to hear the news of clean scans and your returning health and wish for you and your family a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! God bless all of you. Love, Al Tollefson

  8. Wow!
    Glad to know that you have been cured and are well. Will you daughter be asking for more of the masks? What a wonderful project that would be for the survivors or the families of the patients.

    and put some twitter and facebook button on your blog! I need to forward this to my people!

  9. miguel marquez osorio says:

    David el fantastico!
    At last you made it my friend. I am so happy to see that you recovered your full strength and power! If you can make public a story like the one you just told us, it means that you finally defeated cancer. Congratulations!
    Happy Christmas and New Year,
    Miguel Marquez Osorio

  10. margy blackler says:

    So moved by this Dave. Know u have always been a wonderful friend and true inspiration to me. Much love for this Christmas and always. Margy x

  11. Steven Avitable says:

    Everything for a reason and a purpose.
    It is not by accident that I read this today, Christmas Eve.
    May you continue to grow stronger and healthier every day.

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