The radiation center and the infusion center at which I get, respectively, my nuke and platinum poisons, each have a bell attached to the wall near the exit. The bells are the old-fashioned kind you’d have seen on a 19th Century corvette.
It’s a tradition for the cancer patient who has at last reached her/his final treatment session to ring the bell once said session is complete. Finishing either therapy regimen is a notable landmark, natch, and patients like to celebrate the idea that they won’t be fried, sizzled, zapped, toxified, or dosed any longer.
The staff at these treatment centers, as well as many of the patients who happen to be getting fried/dosed at that particular moment, stand and applaud the patient of honor. I’ve imagined ringing my bells at my two centers many times. Tears are always involved.
My brother in cancer, a fellow named Layne Kent, is a sweet and tough high school teacher who this week has the opportunity to ring the bell at his infusion center in Indianapolis. Shockingly — to me at least — he is declining to do it. Here’s his Facebook post explaining his decision:
See? I told you Layne was a sweet guy. And tough, too, considering he’s endured a dozen goddamned rounds of chemotherapy. Man, I’d rather be forced to listen to a dozen Donald Trump speeches.
Anyway, Layne’s concerned about his cancer-sibs still slogging away, nowhere near ringing the bell themselves. A human being with an attitude like his walks with the angels.
I’m not so angelic.
And, no, that doesn’t mean I’m a self-centered ringer of bells either. Let me explain.
I’ve heard the bell rung a couple of times thus far. One, in fact, was for a guy I already know. Each time I heard the pealing, my eyes flooded — both for the ringer and myself.
I truly felt a sense of oneness with the person ringing the bell. I sensed the joy and relief the two ringers experienced as they pulled the clapper’s rope. One of the traits that make us human — or, more accurately, humane — is our ability to empathize with our fellow Homo Sapiens sapiens. I’ve rarely felt more human than when I got frissons from hearing those ringing bells. I was thrilled to be as one with another.
And then there’s my more inaltruistic reaction. The ringing of those bells signified time passing. When one is undergoing 33 daily sessions of linear beam radiation therapy along with three jolts of cancer-killing (and pretty much everything else-killing) drugs, time is the most precious commodity imaginable. Those two lucky souls yanking on the bell rope had also benefitted from that commodity. Time passed. They were finished. They rang their bell.
So, I thought each time I heard the dinging, would I. That bell is a carrot on a stick, an earthworm on a fishhook, drawing me inexorably closer to that dreamed-of final day. Thanks for ringing that bell, I’d say silently, reminding me of my own glorious moment to come.
Layne and I. Two different fellows who are as one.