A person sits in their hospital bed sadly while a person rings a bell behind a curtain

A Nurse’s Perspective on Ringing the Chemo Bell

I remember when the "chemo bell” was donated to the treatment room where I am an infusion nurse. The local news came and did a clip in our treatment room and highlighted the significance of having a bell available to ring when patients complete their treatment. For those who may not be familiar with the ringing of the bell, its purpose and significance are hope, completion, and a sense of security. Again, I would like to reiterate, completion.

Varying oncology experiences

I have been an oncology nurse for 11 years. Cancer is all I know in the nursing world and I wouldn’t change it any other way. I have patients come visit me in the treatment room who are 2, 3, 7 years out and then I have patients who I console, support and care for after they have been told they have weeks to live. The fact of the matter is that our 25 chair treatment room is filled with all stages, diagnoses, and ages. A stage IV cancer patient can look and act the same exact way as a stage 1 cancer patient. However, I’ll tell you that one of those two cancer patients has constant heartache and the unfair reality that their cancer is incurable. This patient will never be able to ring the bell but instead will hear the bell rung by his neighboring cancer buddy time and time again.

Benefit of ringing the bell does not outweigh the discomfort we can impose on others

I will always remember the moment when I realized that the bell’s benefit does not outweigh the discomfort we could impose on our patients and their families. It was New Year's Eve and a physician who I work with came down to talk to me. He told me that he was going to be sending down a 42-year-old patient with stage IV colon cancer and before I questioned him as to how we could treat this man who appeared very sick he reminded me of this patient’s age, his fight and determination to spend as much time as he can with his wife and 8-year-old son. This physician, patient, and wife had just had the most difficult decision in trying this treatment knowing that this may be the last. It took me seconds after meeting this young couple to understand why this physician agreed to proceed with treatment. We decided to put the patient in our one bed where we could pull a curtain, allowing for more comfort and privacy.

Celebrating the end of chemo treatment

As his treatment was underway, I had another younger female patient who was completing her breast cancer treatment and shared with staff and her neighboring cancer buddies how EXCITED she was in ringing the bell. She continued to cheer while walking down the hallway, passing the bed towards the bell. I felt as if she rang the bell for 20 minutes. I couldn’t help but cringe inside at the thought of what kind of emotion and sadness my patient and wife may be feeling behind the curtain.

A cheerleader at heart

I’m a cheerful, high energetic, life-loving person. I’m a cheerleader at heart – cheering my patients on and celebrating with them as certain milestones approach. At first, I saw the bell as a special way to help celebrate with those that could ring it, however, I think it’s important to realize that not everybody gets to ring it and to understand a one-size-fits-all approach that may be helpful to one, maybe causing more grief to another.

Not a one size fits all approach

I do feel that the transition from active treatment to completion should be celebrated. I can personally say that I was able to participate in a celebration when my sister completed treatment for stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer. However, I suggest that we create options for patients that do not intrude on the comfort of others.

What is your experience with the chemo bell?

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