PLATTSBURGH — When bell chimes echo through the halls and exam rooms at the FitzPatrick Cancer Center, patients and staff alike take a moment to offer their congratulations for someone who has reached a milestone.
The bell, which resembles a tiny Liberty Bell — without the crack — and is used to celebrate each patient’s advancement beyond radiation therapy during the overall treatment program to combat cancer, was erected earlier this year to highlight that important plateau in treatment therapy.
“It gives the patients something to look forward to,” said Linda Ellsworth, a registered nurse at the Cancer Center who came up with the idea of an “end-of-treatment” bell when she learned of a similar program while at a conference in Philadelphia.
“It gives them the chance to ring the bell loud and clear and say, ‘My treatment is over, and I’m out of here (the radiation-therapy wing at the center),’” she added.
The bell ringing, which reverberates with authority when used, does not mean a patient’s cancer treatment has ended but symbolizes success with the radiation phase as patients move on to the next step in their overall treatment plan.
Since the first chimes rang last spring, several patients have completed radiation therapy each week, Ellsworth noted. She recalled one week when nine patients moved on from the radiation phase of their treatment by ringing the bell two or three times each.
“It’s completely voluntary,” Ellsworth said of the practice. “Occasionally, someone chooses not to ring the bell, and that’s OK. We still celebrate their accomplishments.”
Marion Keyes of Cadyville chose to chime in when she completed radiation therapy a few months ago.
“I started singing a jingle (while chiming the bell),” Keyes said of that moment of celebration. “I’ve got my bell in my hand going ding-a-ling-a-ling,” she sang in fond memory of that moment.
Keyes had been battling an unrelated blood disorder when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2012. She actually discovered an unusual growth during a self-exam and immediately contacted her doctor, who confirmed the diagnosis and set the wheels in motion for cancer treatment.
“It was Stage 4,” she said of the tumor’s severity. “We started with chemo and then toward the end used radiation.”
Keyes also had to undergo breast surgery to offset the advanced stage of the disease, but the condition is now in remission.
“I will be returning to see Dr. (John ) Griffin regularly, but everything seems to be going good right now,” she said. “They check on you very well here at the center.”
Keyes was 53 when cancer was first diagnosed. Knowing that she would most likely lose a breast in her upcoming battle was not as traumatizing to her as it might be to others, she said, explaining that she has lost a son, and that extreme tragedy gave her the strength to face any challenge cancer threw at her.
“Marion has had just a wonderful, positive attitude throughout her treatments,” Ellsworth said.
“I had to remain positive from the beginning,” she said. “I had a niece going through the same thing, and my parents were both elderly, so I knew I had to be positive for them.”
Keyes also praised the support she received from friends and family as well as her colleagues at the Clinton County Landfill.
“I felt like it was an ending and a beginning at the same time,” she said of the day she rang the bell. “I’m ending a long journey and am now beginning a new life, survivorship.”
She also could not give enough praise to the Cancer Center staff and Griffin, whom she met two years prior to her cancer diagnosis while undergoing treatment for her blood disorder.
She sees herself and other cancer survivors as mentors to recently diagnosed patients who may be experiencing the same fears and doubts that many feel when they first learn that cancer has become a part of their lives.
The liberty bell at FitzPatrick Cancer Center is one way they can all express their willingness to fight the disease and their determination to win.
Email Jeff Meyers:firstname.lastname@example.org