Captain’s bell allows patients to ring the end of their chemotherapy treatment
Meg Bracken dedicated the bell to her brother who died from cancer this year. (ABC Sydney: Amanda Hoh)
When Meg Bracken completed her last round of chemotherapy in September, she celebrated the milestone by ringing a big brass bell.
She had it installed at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick as a way for her and others to mark the next step in their fight against cancer.
“I just wanted patients to be able to celebrate when they finished treatment,” she said.
“It’s a long process, it’s a scary process, and when you know your last round’s done, you really want to embrace it and put a smile on everyone’s faces.”
Ms Bracken was partly inspired by her job in sales, where she and her colleagues would ring a big bell when they closed a deal.
However the experience of losing her brother John to cancer just a month before she was diagnosed, gave Ms Bracken the extra incentive to find a symbolic gesture that would mark the end of her treatment.
John, to whom the bell is dedicated, was diagnosed with an unknown form of cancer just six weeks before he died.
Because of that experience, Ms Bracken took herself straight to the doctor after feeling like “something wasn’t right” in her abdomen, and she was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer.
Long journey ahead
The end of chemotherapy is just one step in a patient’s fight against cancer.
Before starting therapy Ms Bracken had a hysterectomy, and for the next year will need to be tested every three months to check if the cancer has spread.
That will turn into six-monthly tests and yearly tests thereafter.
It is a process Lynette Morgan is well aware of.
On Thursday she completed her last round of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer — her second lot of treatment in three years after her cancer returned.
She rang the captain’s bell to a round of applause from patients and nurses.
Bell makes the moment extra special
With tears in her eyes, she paid tribute to the staff who supported her through the past six months.
“It means a lot, it’s exciting and it means the finish of my chemo,” Ms Morgan said.
“The oncology nurses have been absolutely wonderful, sort of like friends more than nurses to us.
“I love Christmas, it’s a wonderful time of year; everyone is cheerful and happy, even in this room.”
Nurse consultant Jenny Duggen said the staff and other patients would always “make a fuss” on the last day of someone’s treatment, but having the bell made the moment extra special.
“It does certainly inject a lot of energy in the room when the bell rings and there’s a lot of smiling and a nice warm feeling,” Ms Duggen said.
“It’s nice to mark the finish of what is an arduous time.
“Chemotherapy is not a picnic and it’s nice to mark the end of it with a smile.”
More bells on the way
Since the end of her treatment, Ms Bracken has been raising money for extra equipment in the chemotherapy unit.
So far nearly $8,000 has been donated and the nurses have been able to buy an ice machine that allows patients to soak their fingers and feet to reduce circulation during chemo.
She also hopes to buy bells for other hospitals.
“Our goal for the Bell Project is to install bells around Australia in treatment rooms so everybody can look forward to ringing that bell to signify the end of their treatments, be it chemotherapy or [radiation] treatment.
“Hopefully we’ll get sponsors … and that money can go towards valuable equipment and research so we can find a cure for cancer.”