Woman ringing a large bell

Ring That Bell

I had heard about the ritual of ringing the bell after chemotherapy is complete, but until I was immersed in cancer treatment myself I didn’t really understand the significance. I rarely heard the bell rung during my days in the infusion room, a lovely spa name for where you receive chemotherapy. I wondered how this ritual makes others feel. The ones who are not finished or may never be finished. It felt a little bit like bragging to ring the bell.

I am not someone who likes to be the center of attention. I have never liked having “Happy Birthday” sung to me even as a child. All the eyes on me made me cringe. My father used to joke he was going to take me to ChiChis, a local Mexican food restaurant, and tell them it was my birthday. He knew this would be my worst nightmare. The servers would don sombreros and carry mariachis while they hollered and sang to a birthday patron. Thankfully, this event never came to pass.

My last treatment

Every other week as I underwent the dreaded, but life-saving chemotherapy treatment, I thought about how many more times I would endure the hours in the infusion room. Each visit meant I was one step closer to my cure, hopefully. While I have not yet learned if the chemo worked, I did finish my last treatment. The day came for my final round. As I went to my treatment I wondered if the doctor tells them it’s your last time. Is there a flag in the chart? Does a signal go off in the system, last chemo, ding, ding? I quietly received my nausea medicine, steroids and chemotherapy medicines one after the other. My nurse was busy with other patients fluttering around with a chipper attitude in a desperate place.

I didn’t tell my nurse. I wondered if she would know. I was not sure if I wanted to call attention to myself. Would ringing the bell feel like the happy birthday moment of childhood? As the last bag of chemo flowed into my port I thought about what it meant to be finished. I thought about the infusion room and never coming back. I thought about the bags of medicine and the port. I thought about my friends and family who came and sat with me while I had treatments.

Are you finished, finished?

My husband was busy reading a book as the last drops flowed through. When a nurse came to flush my port I found myself saying, “I am finished”. She thought I meant for the day and then she asked, “Are you finished, finished? Is this a bell day?” I said yes. The nurses scrambled to sign a card and we waited. I realized that while I didn’t want to brag, I had earned the chance to ring that bell. Every drop of medicine, every side effect, every time I sat in that chair deserved closure.

The nurses handed me a bell and I rang it hard. Tears formed in my eyes and I didn’t want to be seen anymore, but on our way out I rang the last bell. I may not know if my journey with cancer is over, but at this moment in time this course is run and I rang the bell well.

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