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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • meag
    5 months ago

    Having just been diagnosed, I am trying to absorb the world of cancer. Treatment is scary. The infusion room, other patients, the infusions, the waiting, the after affects, the success or failure. I see both sides and have no idea how I will handle it- probably quietly celebrate alone as not to let others reflect on their journey yet to be completed.

  • amber.lynch moderator author
    5 months ago

    I wish you well as you navigate your own journey through this difficult process. I hope the day comes when you too can Ring the Bell if you so choose. Whether pronounced loudly by a bell or whispered to a loved one the feeling is the same.

  • thea
    5 months ago

    One of the saddest days of my treatment was when the end of my chemo went unnoticed and I was never given the opportunity to ring the bell. While I was happy to have successfully reached the end of treatment I felt cheated when I did not have the chance to symbolically say I made it. Always ring the bell!!

  • amber.lynch moderator author
    5 months ago

    I am sorry that your end of chemo went unnoticed. It makes it no less monumental. Congratulations on finishing your treatment!

  • girard69
    5 months ago

    When I was reading this story I wanted to get to the end to see if the bell was rung. Good for you!
    When I went for my transfusions we formed a family. We would cheer and we would cry.
    Good luck to you and I hope the bell will be rung for some else😊

  • fjg19
    5 months ago

    I just finished all my chemo the end of January. Every time someone rang the bell it was very emotional for me wondering if I would ever get to that point and also just knowing that someone else did. So when it came time to ring I rang the bell loud and proud!

  • amber.lynch moderator author
    5 months ago

    Hearing the bell toll for someone else made me feel happy for them and long for my chance. So glad you rang the bell!

  • paulgaddes
    5 months ago

    This was an interesting article. I declined to ring the bell 5 years ago after completing my chemo. Having relasped this summer I have been in chemo again. I am scheduled to have my final treatment next week. I will again decline. I am a fairly gregarious and outgoing person but the bell ringing doesn’t seem appropriate. I have met and made friends who in that very room who I don’t think will survive much longer. What fleeting pleasure the bell might bring to me doesn’t mitigate the pain it could bring to others.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    5 months ago

    So happy for you! I never heard of a “Ring the bell” fanfare. The words 0 spike, and negative MRD were my bells I needed to hear. Best in living in this moment. 🙂

  • RCGJR
    5 months ago

    Good story. It is a milestone, whatever happens next, and cause for celebration, part of reveling in each victory.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    5 months ago

    Sometimes it is great to stand up and stand out. Good for you, you allowed yourself to know you fought and made it to the other side. Congratulations!

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