Masked Medics Sharing Selfies for Cancer Awareness

Siobhan Harris


March 29, 2021

Medical staff have been sharing selfies in operating theatres as part of a cancer awareness campaign.

The 'Don't Mask The Light' campaign was started by consultant plastic surgeon Theo Nanidis.

He wanted to share a 'light of hope' for cancer patients and to encourage people to take early action if they noticed signs of cancer.

The idea was sparked when a colleague took a striking photo of Theo Nanidis in the operating theatre just after the first lockdown ended.

Medscape UK spoke to him about the campaign.


What sparked the campaign?

There was a lot of fear around when the pandemic first started. Back then we didn't know what we were dealing with, there was no vaccine and we didn't really know how it was going to affect patients.

The idea for the campaign came from my picture. Someone took a photo of me in theatre, just after the first lockdown and I thought I looked tired and anxious with worry.

I thought to myself, if I'm anxious and I'm healthy I can't imagine how a person who's just been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer is feeling, or someone having chemo or recovering from cancer is coping through the pandemic.

I suddenly felt compelled to spread a word of positivity and togetherness for all my patients. I wanted all patients and cancer survivors to know that the medical community was still there for them during the pandemic, that they had our full support.

Was that because there was a lack of physical contact with some patients?

Yes. A lot of our clinics went to remote and we weren't seeing as many patients face-to-face. I had missed that contact and wanted everyone to know that their cancer doctors and nurses were still there to support them. Patients were telling me they felt isolated at home and I wanted them to know they were cared for.

I thought of spreading a feeling of positivity through the power of photography and try to shine a light of hope for patients and their families.

So medical professionals liked the idea and started taking selfies for the campaign?

Yes. Slowly from across the world pictures started coming in from surgeons and nurses. The idea was to post a masked selfie, so in effect we are masking COVID and not the light of hope. It rapidly became a bit of a competition where all the surgeons started to compete about who's going to do the best picture. I told them it doesn't have to be award-winning, just a selfie! We have collected well over a hundred pictures now.

We've got healthcare workers from the US, Australia, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Belgium. It's been very powerful to see the response and also good to know I also have had support from my colleagues for it.

What would you like to achieve through this campaign?

The first part of my campaign was centred around the positivity aspect and also early cancer detection awareness. The second part was to raise funds for cancer research.

I was thinking about people sitting at home finding a breast lump and thinking, with COVID the systems are stretched, I don't want to bother my GP. But I wanted them to know the cancer services are there for people to use them, everything is running. I wanted them to realise that early detection of cancer is key. If something is worrying you, don't wait, flag it up.

It is also raising money for cancer research. Hopefully in my lifetime I'd like to see breast cancer gone. I treat it all the time, it's what I do, but I want rid of it. One in 8 women will get breast cancer and 1 in 2 people will get cancer. It's a reality so there's a big need for research.

How did your surgical work change during this year?

For me at The Royal Marsden we never really stopped our core services. We specialise in cancer, so we have been relatively protected. We became a hub where other London hospitals would funnel their cancer patients, while they dealt with COVID. The management here have been excellent.

There's still however some anxiety, the 2-week isolations, social distancing, PPE but now we are all used to it. I think things in general are slowly returning back to normal.

Was the campaign easy to organise and how can people take part?

To be honest it was a hell of a lot of work as I work fulltime in the NHS and I was pretty rubbish on social media! It was a learning curve for me but we've raised around £3400 so far.

People can take part by either uploading a picture, donating or both.

If you want to upload a photo for the campaign of solidarity, just put it on your favourite social media site with the hashtag 'DontMaskTheLight' and I'll pick it up.

If anyone wants to donate, then I have a JustGiving link on the Instagram page.

I would sincerely urge everyone to help me spread the word and I am extremely grateful for every single entry and donation.

The money goes to Cancer Research UK and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Image credit: Don't Mask The Light


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