April 08, 2020
Despite COVID-19, survivor gets to ring the bell with his family
BY Cynthia DeMarco
Over the course of their 33-year marriage, Jack ("Pat") and Cindy Chamberlain have faced many challenges. Jack lost his job right after they tied the knot, and within a month, Cindy lost her job, too. Their daughter was born eight weeks prematurely in 1989, and they were told initially that she probably wouldn’t survive. Three weeks later, the baby was discharged from the NICU and sent home with her parents.
“It’s kind of been that way all along,” says Cindy. “We’ve had some really great times together and then — BOOM! Another huge bump in the road. You just readjust and go on.”
But when Jack, a colorectal and prostate cancer survivor, finished 39 days of radiation therapy at MD Anderson in Sugar Land on April 1, 2020, Cindy thought she would be by his side to mark the occasion. Both she and their now-grown daughter had taken off work that day, so they could watch him ring the bell to celebrate the end of his treatment.
Then, MD Anderson, like other hospitals, temporarily stopped allowing visitors on its campuses, to protect its patients and workforce from the 2019 novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The family was heartbroken.
“I wasn’t so much sad for me as I was disappointed for him,” Cindy says. “This was such a big deal for us. Jack talked about it constantly for two weeks. It was going to be exciting for us to have that symbol of accomplishment.”
Visitor restrictions call for creative solutions to mark the end of cancer treatment
That’s when Cherie Walters, an advanced practice provider supervisor, and Caitlin Byler, a regional program development director, stepped in.
“For patients who began treatment after the coronavirus pandemic started, the bell ringing may not be as much of an expectation,” says Walters. “But for the ones who started before COVID-19, it’s still a light at the end of the tunnel. And they’ve been looking forward to it for so long, it’s really heart-wrenching for them not to have that.”
That’s why Walters and Byler started brainstorming alternatives the minute Jack first approached them about his ceremony. Eventually, they decided to order hand bells online, then carefully write out the inscription next to the original bell in MD Anderson’s main building on a decorative card. They presented the bell to Jack after his last treatment, so he’d still have one to ring with his family, as planned.
“I was speechless,” Jack says. “It was very emotional.”
“That made me cry,” adds Cindy, of seeing the bell when Jack brought it outside after his appointment. “I was so excited for him. And more touched than I can say that these ladies would go the extra mile for him like that. It really meant the world to me.”
Showing cancer patients ‘we are in this with them’
Walters and Byler have already ordered more hand bells, so they can provide the same experience to other patients who finish their treatments in the weeks to come.
“Even when people come in without the expectation that they’re going to have that, we know it’s important,” says Byler. “They are going through this whole thing without their loved ones physically present, due to COVID-19. So, we want them to know that we are in this with them, and we will do anything we can to make a tough situation better.”
“Mr. Chamberlain got to bring his bell home,” she added. “And hearing how much it meant to his family was the cherry on top.”
Find COVID-19 resources and learn how MD Anderson is responding to the pandemic.
TopicsCOVID-19 Colon Cancer Prostate Cancer
It really meant the world to me.