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No, not a damn bell!

At my recent oncology appointment, I was sitting quietly in the waiting room minding my own business while scrolling through my Twitter feed on my phone when out of the blue, I heard an annoying sound and immediately thought, what the heck was that? followed by, no, not a damn bell!

At first, I thought it was a fire drill, or an elevator gone haywire noise, or a kid’s toy. I glanced around the room, and lo and behold, I saw it. Right up there by the registration desk — front and center — there it was hanging on the wall. Ugh…

Do we need to ring bells in cancer centers? #chemo #radiation #cancersucks

My immediate reaction was no, not a damn bell!

I’ve been going to my cancer center for a dozen years now. One thing I have appreciated is that it’s remained a no bell-ringing sort of cancer center. I might’ve even had a few moments of feeling almost smug about this — thinking my cancer center knows better. The folks who run my cancer center have taken the high road.

Dumb, I know. And now, it turns out, I was wrong anyway.

I won’t bother to rehash what I’ve already written about this bell-ringing phenomenon that seems to be overtaking cancer centers, but let me just say, when I heard that bell being rung, I was disappointed.

And no, a bell is not the most pressing issue any Cancer Haver contends with. Still, it is interesting, to me anyway, how this bell-ringing phenomenon keeps spreading. It’s likely related to the Positivity Police Brigade mindset. I see it as an overreach, but more importantly, as a lack of empathy for folks with metastatic disease who’ll never be ringing a darn bell.

Of course, I fully realize many, even some with metastatic disease, disagree. Which is fine. In fact, if that’s you, I’d love to hear from you.

At least the bell wasn’t mounted on the wall of the chemo room or on one in the radiation area, but nonetheless, it was positioned in a room where Cancer Havers of all types and stages would potentially be hearing the dang bell whenever it gets rung.

Forget the whole bell-ringing debate for a minute. Putting all that aside, when I heard the bell being rung, my first reaction was annoyance. I doubt I was the only one.

Why was I annoyed?

Because it was a disruptive clang — not a pleasant-sounding clang.

It took a few seconds for the sound to even register and for me to realize what it was. I mean, if we’re going to have a bell to ring, is it too much to ask that the bell have a nice ring sound to it?

Going to a cancer center is never pleasant. But when my appointment was over, I was more eager than ever to escape through those front doors.

I did stop to take a photo before making my exit because I figured I might want to write about this at some point. I’m sure if anyone saw me take it they were thinking, boy that woman must really like that new bell since she’s taking a photo of it.

If they only knew, right?

Again, I realize in the scheme of things, having a bell for folks who’ve wrapped up chemo or radiation isn’t that big a deal.

What’s the harm?

It’s just a bell.

Therein also lies the answer.

In a cancer center, if something potentially harms even a few, why have it?

And if it’s just a bell, do we really need one?

To me, the answers to both are obvious.

What do you think? (All viewpoints welcome.)

No, Not a Damn Bell! Do we really need this in a #cancercenter? #cancer #chemotherapy #radiation #cancersucks

You might want to read, Is Ringing a Bell Really Necessary When Ending Cancer Treatment?

How do you feel about bell ringing (by adults) in cancer centers?

Does your cancer center have a bell for cancer patients to ring?

Christina Jue

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

I am metastatic, so I've been to the oncology clinic more times than I can count. I've never heard the bell ring before. I hope that when I do hear it I can be be meditative and gracious and think that they deserve this happiness of ringing the bell. But more likely, I'll probably be annoyed in exactly the manner you described.

There was a small study that indicated that ringing the bell is bad for the ringer too. Apparently that provides a checkpoint in their mind where they recall the bad parts more vividly. It's here: I hope I'm not pointing you to a study that you've already read.


Wednesday 15th of June 2022

Christina, Thank you for sharing the study link. Interesting. Let's hope you don't have to hear a bell at your center. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.


Monday 30th of May 2022

I rang the bell last week. I didn’t consider it would offend any one. I saw many people get chemo during my treatments who had hair… I didn’t shame them for not getting my chemo and not losing their hair… I didn’t shame others who left oncology department and didn’t ring the bell … that’s their story. When we don’t celebrate the joy others are experiencing we lose our own sense of gratitude. I appreciate your point… this is your story and I’m sorry yours doesn’t have an end to treatments. That’s not fair! It makes my heart hurt. I’m full of gratitude to the nurses and doctors who cares for me and stood next to me with tears in their eyes… celebrating with me as I rang the bell.


Wednesday 1st of June 2022

Kym, Just to clarify, I'm not metastatic, but I care about those who are and how hearing the bell can be upsetting for some. It's not about shaming anyone. It's about empathy for others. No matter how you personally feel about the bell ringing, I suspect you would've been fine without ringing one and celebrating elsewhere. Gratitude for those caring for you could be expressed in a variety of other less intrusive ways. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

Lesley Townson

Saturday 28th of May 2022

Until my breast cancer "journey", I thought the bell-ringing was for children because of a charity's adverts on tv in UK! There wasn't a bell at the cancer unit in my local hospital where I had most of my treatment, but there was when I went for radiotherapy. Because of covid-19 I couldn't take anyone with me, so I felt less daft ringing the bell after I finished the sessions, but it didn't feel like the "rite of passage" I was led to expect! But maybe that's just how I process things - I'm currently investigating if I may be on the autism spectrum ( it's early days but it seems likely!)


Wednesday 1st of June 2022

Lesley, Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts about bell ringing. Sounds like you were somewhat uncomfortable ringing it and also found it to be anticlimactic. I hope you get some answers regarding the possibility of being autistic. Thanks for commenting.


Friday 20th of May 2022

When I recently had the last of a series of intense chemo to treat lymphoma, the nurses brought me a sparkling water and a personal size cheesecake. They thanked me for being a kind patient and said "see you soon" because we all knew I would be back for maintenance chemo in 2 months. It was unexpected, private, and other patients were not subjected to any noisy celebration.

I am ALL for celebrating. Living with cancer is a bear and some days getting up and getting dressed is a challenge. We all should celebrate the small milestones and the big ones too. However, I believe with my whole heart we should never do anything that has the potential to cause pain to others. Ringing a bell in a place where people are facing the end of their time on this earth, to my way of thinking, is selfish and honestly cruel.

I recently read some Cancer Centers give people small bells to take home so they can ring, ring, ring and celebrate the end of this step in their process - privately and without causing harm. That is a bell ringing compromise that works for me.


Saturday 21st of May 2022

Edie, Can I just say, I love your comment. Every word. And a cheesecake. Now that, I could get behind. :) Private celebrations are better and far less disruptive. Interesting about the small bells to take home. I like that idea too. Thank you for your astute comments.


Thursday 19th of May 2022

no triumph, no tragedy. My cancer centre has a bell but no way I would ring it at the end of treatment (or any other time). Too much like hubris. It's a bit like I don't do the "battle" word ... I'll maximise my chances for sure by keeping fit and eating the right stuff and so on, but either I get lucky or I don't. It's not a "winning" or "losing" situation. I won't "triumph" if I live and it won't be a tragedy if I don't. In the meantime I'm going live happy and enjoy stuff (and any bell ringing will either be in a church bell tower or I might make a little Buddhist shrine in the garden :-) )


Thursday 19th of May 2022

Stevie, Well said! Thank you.

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