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Is Ringing a Bell Really Necessary When Ending Cancer Treatment?

Is ringing a bell really necessary when ending cancer treatment?

I think not.

This debate has been going on for a few months, probably longer. I never considered writing about it, but changed my mind last week after reading a piece by my online friend and fellow advocate Jo, aka abcdiagnosis, called, It’s time to call time on the “end of treatment bell”. You should read it.

My first thought upon learning about this bell ringing dilemma was, are you kidding?

This one seems like a such an easy fix. How could this even be up for debate?

Stop ringing the darn bells!

Turns out, a lot of people disagree with this easy solution. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, hear me out. Then share your viewpoint with a comment.

Some say ringing a bell when you finish chemo or radiation is good closure. I get that. Really, I do.

I was a chemo basket case. Hated it. Hated everything about it. The big room where you had to sit with everyone else going through the same hell. The very idea of poison purposely being pumped into your system. The recliners. The annoying TV shows. The no privacy. The conversations you didn’t need to listen in on. The side effects. The weight gain. (Yes, I said gain.) The hair loss. The looking sick thing. All of it. I hated ALL of it.

When I finished, I was relieved. No, I was thrilled to be done. I wanted to celebrate. But not in my cancer center. I couldn’t escape from there fast enough!

My cancer center had no bell. Thank God.

What if there had been one?

I did get a certificate and a bottle of sparkling apple cider something or other. And the chemo nurses congratulated me and probably offered hugs, though I was not in a hugging mood.

I also remember feeling very awkward. And a little annoyed. I didn’t need or want a certificate. I’m not sure what happened to it. I think I tore it up and threw it in the trash.

I mean, what was I supposed to do with it? Frame it? Put it in a memory book?

I think not.

You might want to read, Chemotherapy – The End Is Really the Beginning.

But back to the bell ringing…

Is ringing a bell really necessary?

When you are metastatic, you are in treatment for the rest of your life. The. Rest. Of. Your. Life.

Some patients take oral chemo. Others hook themselves up to those darn chemicals every couple weeks, or whatever their particular schedule might be.

Again, there is NO end.

So, think about sitting there in that recliner as a metastatic breast cancer patient (or other type of metastatic cancer patient) and hearing those damn bells time and time again, knowing you will never be ringing one.

Not quite so celebratory sounding, right?

Now, there are some with mbc who say they don’t mind hearing the bell ringing. In fact, some like hearing it.

Bell ringing reminds them of camaraderie, hope or it’s just a nice distraction there in the chemo center. There are many reasons, I suppose.

But many metastatic patients DO mind. In fact, deep down, the bell ringing irritates the hell out of them.

And herein lies the problem.

As far as I’m concerned, the solution here is simple.

In a word – EMPATHY – it’s about that.

We do not need more walls in Cancer Land.

Bell ringing is divisive. And insensitive.

Wanna-be bell ringers need to think about how never-to-be bell ringers feel when they hear the sound.

It really is that simple.

Sometimes, it’s not all about you. It’s about the person sitting next to you too.

Cancer centers bear most of the responsibility here. Just don’t have the darn bells. Or the lame rainbow picture/message.

Is Ringing a Bell at the End of #Cancer Treatment Really Necessary? #breastcancer #advocacy #chemotherapy #radiation

I mean really, what are we, ten years old?

As my friend Jo (she lives in the UK) says in her piece:

It seems a modern-day phenomenon that everything has to be celebrated loudly and brashly. I believe this new way of celebrating finishing chemotherapy arrived from the USA.

Doesn’t that make you proud my fellow American cancer patients?

All this reminds me of when I was in the classroom. Bell ringing might be entirely appropriate there, needed even, for some students marking achievements. There’s a reason teachers use stickers, awards and yes, sometimes bells!

But that is for children, for crying out loud.

The appropriate place for ringing an end of chemo bell would be in a children’s chemo room. In fact, kids getting chemo should be able to ring a bell every single time they finish a session.

I am all in favor of children who are cancer patients ringing bells as often as they want.

And I am certainly in favor of adults celebrating at the end of chemo or radiation too. But for goodness sake, do it in the parking lot, on the drive home, at a restaurant or wherever. Buy yourself some bells to ring for when you get home, if you want to ring a bell.

But stop ringing bells in (adult) cancer chemo rooms!

Just stop!

Problem solved.

Lord knows we have bigger problems to contend with, right?

Is Ringing a Bell Really Necessary When Ending Cancer Treatment?

I can’t wait to hear what YOU think. Even if you disagree with me.

To get more articles like this one delivered weekly to your inbox, Click Here! #KeepingItReal #SupportYouCanUse

Do you agree or disagree with me on this bell ringing debate?

Does you cancer center have a bell for this purpose?

Did you, or would you ring such a bell?

If you like this post, please share it. Thank you!

NOTE: Featured photo by F. Carter Smith via MD Andersen. Bell/rainbow photo via bmjopinion. Both are used in accordance with the Fair Use copyright doctrine.

Is Ringing a Bell at the End of Cancer Treatment Really Necessary? #cancer #breastcancer #chemotherapy #radiation #advocacy #metastaticbreastcancer


Wednesday 17th of February 2021

I'm Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and will have to continue chemo immunotherapy in my doctor's infusion room for the rest of my life. I've sat in the big reclining chairs while three patients rang that bell with gusto and I've silently cheered each of them on. A few years ago I commented about this thread and at the time, I was adamantly opposed to the ships bell mounted on the wall in the big room and vowed to complain to my doctor about removing it. Now, a few remissions later and I feel like I've finally given up on the idea that I needed to protect myself from any other cancer patient's celebration. I see the joy on their faces and I've allowed myself to celebrate that with them quietly with a warm smile. I don't regret any moment of joy that I felt for any of these folks. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own well being and learning to be joyful in the moments you have (alone or with others) has been really difficult but so rewarding when I get it right.


Wednesday 17th of February 2021

Sue, It's interesting how your perspective on this has evolved over time. I appreciate how you expressed your feelings in such a calm, reasonable fashion. I agree, we are each responsible for our own well being, but ultimately, if our actions can impact the well being of others who are struggling, it seems ringing a bell is a small thing to give up in order to show compassion for them. Thank you for your comments.


Friday 12th of February 2021

Hello! I am sorry for your stage 4 dx. I can't imagine what that might be like. I can understand the pain it causes, not knowing someone else on a certain day finished treatment, but as you said, your treatment is never done. I was dx stage 2 TNBC and for today I show no evidence of disease. But that can change at any time. When I was finished with chemo, I didn't ring a bell. They didn't have one at the cancer center I was treated at; they had a gong!. A big gong. A very loud gong. I rang it. After radiation, I rang it again. I rang it because it was the toughest work I've ever done in my life. The chemo almost killed me, yet here I am, a happy little old lady. I would like to think that if this stupid cancer has the nerve to return, I would smile and clap for those banging the gong. They have every right and reason to celebrate their victories. I would feel great joy for them. Maybe it comes from the fact I had several miscarriages and no children (which was devastating), but I could still be joyous holding someone's sonogram, celebrating birthdays, and all. But no two people are same.


Friday 12th of February 2021

Teri, I actually do not have MBC. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on bell ringing. Mine remained unchanged. I'm sorry you had those miscarriages. That must've been heartbreaking.

Linda Logan

Sunday 3rd of May 2020

My mum died of cancer at the age of 54. It was many years ago, but thank goodness they didn't have one of those stupid bells in her oncology ward at the time. Knowing that nothing could cure her and that we were going to lose her was nothing short of mental torture. The thought that people can be self-centered enough to not consider what terminal patients and their relatives must really feel when they hear it being rung is mind blowing. It can only add to their anguish, even if they are pleased for the person leaving the ward. It may be have been well intentioned, but in reality, it's one of the most thoughtless, cruel ideas ever. If there'd been one on the ward when my mum was dying, I'd have totally lost it.


Monday 4th of May 2020

Linda, I'm very sorry about your mum. I agree with you about the bell ringing. Completely unnecessary. Thank you for sharing.


Tuesday 27th of August 2019

My daughter was 3yrs old, and was over the moon when she finished Chemo after 1 1/2 years. We all Thank God she is still here! We are Blessed even with the post issues!! It is a celebration that they should if they want to celebrate the end. Saying Goodbye to those who knew us, were there threw the horrible times. CANCER SUCKS and any rejoicing is good. You were obviously one of many that can be thankful they are still here. You are able to write your opinion, and that is great. And after seeing my only child go threw horrid I would be proud if her new cancer center had the bell!


Wednesday 28th of August 2019

Karen, I'm so glad your daughter is doing okay. I completely agree that children should be ringing bells all they want! Best wishes to you and your family. Thank you for sharing.


Monday 5th of August 2019

I thought I was the only one feeling weird about the bell. Apparently not. I did noticed at my infusion center I never saw a bell hanging on a wall, nor did I hear one ringing. I was very fortunate each patient had a private room with a door, TV and some had windows. I often just sat and tried to enjoy the quiet time, while trying to figure out what to do on this journey my live was shoved in. Upon my last treatment, I was actual a bit sad. The staff was great and I would miss the staff. I also loved the weekly quiet time. However at the same time I was tired of being poisoned and going through the unknown of what will my body do this time. At the end I was so happy that my body would be recovering, instead of getting worse each week. The last day, the staff put posters up in my room, which brought me to tears--actually that and their card was the best gift of all, and the best way to mark the moment. I was asked what kind of party would I like, and my response was I don't want to disturb anyone else. They said no this is about you-what you want and asked if I wanted to ring the bell. I had been told it was a big deal and I should ring it--so I said I would. As I finished they rolled in a bell in my room, which I gave one ding. I felt sort of silly, because this is just the end of the chemo...I still had mastectomy and radiation and reconstruction (which I am still struggling with a decision on) this wasn't the end. I still have a long road ahead of me. Would I have rung the bell I can remember how horrible I felt when I would hear others say they were done with their last round of chemo. Sure I was happy for them, but at the same time I couldn't see the end of mine. The facility did the right thing and hid the bell when not in use, and asked patients what they wanted. They said some people held huge parties, and others did not. All I remember is how I felt. Just like the color pink (didn't like it before, definitely hate it now) those rituals shouldn't be forced upon others. I do like the idea of ringing the bell after every one more down---everyone cheer. I think I could be happy about that for everyone there. I know I was happy to see many of them each week, because that is one more week of living they were given. And that is worth celebrating!

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