I will have to separate the blog of Ringing the bell into a "series". The first is my first experience as a fly on the wall who happened to be at the "right place at the right time". The second, I hope to discuss the complexity of making a decision to choose to celebrate our child's end of treatment by ringing of the bell. The third part I hope to share my emotions as I process watching my son ring the bell (which will happen in less than 24 hours from this post).
Part 1: A fly on the wall
The excitement in the air was intriguing. Here we were at a clinic for a rather depressing reason, and yet all the energy in the back of the room lured me in and my curiosity would not allow me to remove my gaze off the crowd.
Near the back of the clinic waiting room, you could see two parallel lines forming, and bodies facing inward toward the friendly face of another person in the other line, much like line dancing. At the front of the two lines you could see siblings, parents, grandparents and other extended family members that were able to join for this moment in the Oncology clinic at the end of a long business day. Gracious smiling faces, proud faces, relieved faces, reached their hands forward to touch the set of hands of the person face to face directly in front of them, just arms length away. High above their heads, they interlocked their hands with another smiling face directly in front of them creating a tunnel made of arms, much like you see people do at weddings or dances. They were waiting for someone, and someone very special to come through their tunnel.
At the front of the lines stood a brightly painted wooden post in childlike colors splashed on without pattern. It stood about 6 feet tall and had a base with black and steel caster wheels on the bottom of the base. Near the top of the wooden post hung a beautiful brass bell with a long ivory color rope with several knots that hung low enough for a small child to reach.
The line got longer as I started to see nurses and doctors from the clinic rush to line up and find a partner to help extend the tunnel of arms near the end of the line. They were ready to celebrate!
It took me a minute to piece together what was happening. After all, this was only the first few weeks of our family being dunked into the frigid waters of pediatric cancer.
Within minutes, everyone was ready and a young school aged child unexpectedly came running from behind me with so much zest and so much pride from the clinic in the halls behind me. He ran joyfully through the tunnel created by the rows of his people connecting their hands high above. With every step further into the tunnel, he soaked up all the energy and praise from those cheering him on loudly.
He Celebrated his very huge and personal milestone- that of completing his cancer treatment. He ran to the front of the line where the End of Treatment Bell stood, shiny and erect, inviting him to celebrate this monumental achievement. And he reached for the rope, wrapping his fingers and his grip tightly around it, and pulled it with strength. He rang the bell with conviction and pride, filling the room with the sound of the bell chime of victory. A sign that he finished his long and arduous cancer treatment plan.
Tears flowed from my eyes while watching how his family and the oncology unit gathered to make this boy feel beyond special. I was so moved by what I witnessed in those moments, and I was so filled with joy for a child and his family: complete strangers to me and yet not so unfamiliar in our experience. I could imagine what his parents were feeling. I was so privileged to see him proudly ring that bell. And to this day, it still moves me to tears when I recall the memory. I knew from that moment, in the depths of my heart, that I so longed to celebrate my child in such a way: with pride, with joy, with relief, with gratitude and sharing in the experience of ringing the bell.
When the bell ringing ceased, his round of hugs given and all congratulations were said , a clinic staff member rolled away the bell and tucked it away in a corner of the back of the room, blended into the resource bookshelves lined with books about pediatric cancer, as to not draw attention; it stood discreetly holding the joy and pride of the children who have been blessed enough to celebrate the end of treatment. But there stood a pillar of hope as a reminder to cling to the faith and hope that we too could ring that bell.
That was the first time I was able to witness a childhood cancer survivor “Ring the Bell”, and how powerful to see it in person, even if I was like a fly on the wall. But it was something so profound to witness, and it inspired me to believe that cancer wasn’t a death sentence.
My son will be ringing the bell tomorrow morning, but unfortunately, only my spouse and I can be present to celebrate his victory at the hospital. I know we won’t have quite this experience, but I know we will feel the same way this family did, nonetheless, when they watched their warrior run across the room to ring the bell!
We will get a chance to celebrate privately as a family at home, thank you to the generous donation of a Bell of our own, from a family friend! It was a great recommendation to a dilemma being faced by families ending treatment during the Coronavirus Pandemic. This is similar to the one we received as a gift for any families wanting their own bell!
Next: Part 2: To Ring or Not to Ring
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