You can Ring my Bell

The other night a commercial came on, lovely woman with a scarf on her head indicating a lack of hair, pale but healthy looking, and of course wearing a a fashionable pashmina around her neck. In the background happy nurses and IV poles and the woman was “ringing the bell” to indicate she had finished her prescribed rounds of chemotherapy. She had made it. She was now A SURVIVOR.

My husband sitting next to me snorted and said “yeah, see you soon”. We have a very different perspective in our home.

This moment has been bouncing around in my head ever since so I want to explore it a little and put my thoughts in order. I was originally diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and went through the standard 6 month treatment plan.Surgery, radiation, chemo. All along the way from the very first oncologists appointment I was given positive news, and then smacked in the head with the next conversation when they would explain that it was a little worse than expected. This happened over and over and over. I do not know if it is something they teach in medical school or if it was exclusive to my doctor, there was never an honest factual conversation that was not skewed by a positive “it’s not that bad” kind of message. My cancer was diagnosed at stage 3b, it was pretty bad.

My husband and I are both pretty intelligent people who like to learn everything we can about anything that catches our interest, so within weeks we knew what the probabilities were and what we were facing. According to the information we came across I had a 32% chance of still being alive in five years.

So when my oncologist said I was done with treatment, I was in fact basically cured and should go out and live my life, there was not a whole lot of belief in his words.

My cancer returned in 2014 with the discovery of three large tumors in my lungs. As I type this in 2022 you can probably guess that I have been incredibly lucky and found treatment that worked for me, but there is a cost. I have been in treatment since 2014. I have had multiple procedures, more radiation and I have been receiving IV chemotherapy every three weeks for eight years.When I see someone on a commercial ringing that victory bell because they are done, they are cured, they can go back to their precancerous life, I know it’s probably a lie.

What I wonder about is the people who are told at the beginning do not go looking for information. Do not look at statistics. Just do what the medical staff tells you and live your life. I prepared for the return of the cancer. I did everything I could to get stronger, to live healthier, so when it came back I would be ready to give it my everything. What happens to the people who ring that bell and think they are done forever, that they do not have to worry about it anymore, and then they hear the words, again. We found cancer.

I try to imagine how they feel. Do they resent the Doctors and Nurses who congratulated them on beating the disease? Do they feel as if they have themselves failed? Are they completely demoralized and spiral into a depression or flight mode instead of fight mode? If I had actually believed tat I was done, that my life would return to normal I don’t know how I would have coped with the shock and surprise.

I mean let’s be honest, I know what’s best for everyone. If you need to know what to do just ask me. I am always right. Except in this case. I know that my way is not the way for everyone. I guess that’s what I want to say. Don’t put your preconceived notions of how people should feel into the situation. Listen, watch, adapt. Some people would love it if you showed up with a bouquet of balloons and cupcakes to celebrate and ringing the hell out of the bell and then never ever speak of it again. Some people embrace the suck and get giant stickers on their car that say STUPID CANCER!


  • mb

    March 29, 2022 at 5:42 pm Reply

    My disease is different but I really wish they had approached it differently. I never really felt like I was given good information on what I could do. The nurses always made me feel bad. I always left appointments like I was on death’s door even when things were stable. It was/is really hard on my mental health.

    • Tracy

      March 29, 2022 at 5:55 pm Reply

      It’s so strange to me that they can’t take a moment to have that personal approach, to really look at someone and talk to them rather than just talk at them. I know a lot of people in the medical profession would just say it’s abut time, they have only have so long with each patient, most medical practices have quotas now from the big medical corporations that bought their practices. It just doesn’t work to the benefit of most people.

  • Bonnie Austin

    March 30, 2022 at 12:05 am Reply

    This is what I’m afraid of.
    My Onc does not give out any real info, no statistics. Nothing in what to expect. Not even real info on how common side effects are. Anything I know, I learned by my own research.
    Its maddening. And just beats me down.

  • Sally

    March 30, 2022 at 3:00 am Reply

    Tracy-wow. When I was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 1 breast cancer, my doctor said, “You have a little cancer.” What did that mean? I have been cancer free but have had many scares. Ovaries bursting that should have been shuffled up and maybe cancer. I had part of the colon removed due to precancer polyps. I also am trying to be healthy just waiting for the next cancer.

    You inspire me to live my life with joy. Thanks, Tracy!

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