Chemo bell serves as ‘Ring of Hope’ for patients

Rachel Kytonen

It’s just a simple ring of a bell, but for chemotherapy patients at Cambridge Medical Center, it’s a symbol of hope and strength.

Holding the bell that chemotherapy patients at Cambridge Medical Center can ring to celebrate a milestone in their treatment plan are, from left, Short Stay Nurse Paulie; Pam Whitehead, Short Stay Services Nurse Manager; Short Stay Nurses Tammy and Mari; Bonnie Gutzkow-Bowman, CMC Resource Center Coordinator; Paul Hinderscheid, Patient Services Representative; and Short Stay Nurses Marica, Susan and Marnae. Photo by Rachel Kytonen

Recently, a bell was placed in Short Stay Services at Cambridge Medical Center. And it’s not just any bell. It’s a bell that only chemotherapy patients can ring when they are celebrating a milestone in their treatment plan.

When patients ring the bell, they also recite the following poem:  “Ring this bell / Three times well, / Its toll to clearly say / My treatment’s done, / This course is run, / And I’m on my way.”

The bell was placed in Short Stay Services due to the caring nature of Paul Hinderscheid, patient services representative at CMC.

Hinderscheid, who lives on Rush Lake, explained he was talking to a neighbor who had breast cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. It was mentioned they have heard about bells being put in chemotherapy treatment centers as a way for patients to celebrate the completion of their treatment or a milestone in their treatment plan.

Tammy, a chemotherapy patient at Cambridge Medical Center, was the first person to ring the bell after completing her treatments. Tammy said she’s very appreciative of the staff at CMC, and gives a big “thank you” to all the doctors and nurses at CMC. She particularly noted all the nurses in Short Stay Services are very caring and called them “incredible.”

Hinderscheid found an article online about a chemo bell being placed at Moses Cone Regional Cancer Center in Greensboro, N.C. He really liked the look of that bell and was able to find a similar one. The bell was purchased through funding provided by the Harbor Room, Cancer Resource Center, at CMC.

Bonnie Gutzkow-Bowman, CMC resource center coordinator, explained the bell is engraved in honor of Denise Wood, who passed away from cancer on Nov. 11, 2011. Wood was a long-term employee at CMC and was undergoing chemotherapy.

Gutzkow-Bowman explained she has heard of larger cancer centers having a chemo bell, such as the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic, but feels CMC is one of the initial centers to offer a chemo bell.

Short Stay Services Nurse Manager Pam Whitehead said the bell has special meaning to her colleagues.

“The day Paul [Hinderscheid] brought the bell in everyone in our entire department started to cry,” explained Whitehead. “It is just so beautiful.”

Whitehead explained Tammy, a chemotherapy patient at CMC, was the first patient to ring the bell a few weeks ago.

“We have been waiting for someone to finish treatment and someone did recently,” Whitehead explained. “On her last day of treatment she brought her husband and daughter with, and she rang the bell and recited the poem. She was so very proud, and a very happy person.”

Gutzkow-Bowman said she feels the chemo bell may make the chemotherapy appointments a little more tolerable for the patients, as it gives them something to look forward to.

The chemo bell at Short Stay Services at Cambridge Medical Center is engraved in honor of Denise Wood, who passed away from cancer on Nov. 11, 2011. Wood had been a long-time employee at Cambridge Medical Center.

Hinderscheid agreed and felt there’s something special about the bell. He added in the future a biography and photo of Wood will be placed by the bell.

“There’s something about the bell and when the other chemo patients hear it ring, it might give them a sense of ‘hey, I can do this,’” Hinderscheid said. “Chemotherapy and its treatments are so complex. The bell is something so simple that can give them hope and hopefully they are able to tell themselves that someday, I’ll be able to ring that bell. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard regarding cancer is, ‘cancer is a word, not a sentence.’”

Busy Department

Whitehead explained since CMC brought on a full-time oncologist in November 2010, business has increased by 49 percent. The Short Stay Services at CMC averages 24 chemo/IV patients per day.

Whitehead explained she is very thankful CMC is embarking on an expansion that will include a new Short Stay Services entrance, reception desk and lobby. Also, four new chemotherapy/infusion therapy suites will replace the current therapy rooms. The expansion is expected to be completed by November.

“Thank goodness we are getting an expansion,” Whitehead said. “We are so crowded in here and our patients have had to live through that with us. But I would like to note that we have an exceptional staff that is working through some tough conditions right now due to the construction. With as big as an increase we have seen this past year I’m real proud of my employees and the incredible work they’ve done this past year.”