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'Ringing the Bell' Ritual Celebrates End of Cancer Treatment

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The sun shined on a Tuesday morning in late April, and Richelle Burns, 54, of Newport had something more than the beautiful spring day to celebrate. She had completed her last treatment of radiation therapy to combat breast cancer — a diagnosis Burns had received in December of 2018.

Burns celebrated this moment with a ceremonial bell ringing. “Ringing the bell” is a ritual practiced throughout the cancer community and offers patients the chance to embrace the completion of treatment and celebrate their future. When a patient rings the bell, it’s a sign of hope for all who hear it — the newly diagnosed, those in treatment who may be feeling overwhelmed and want to give up, and for the oncology staff who care for them.

When asked how she felt as she rang the bell to close this chapter on her journey with breast cancer, Burns responded, “It feels great to be done! The experience and people here were wonderful, but I never want to have to do this again.”

In 2019, the Samaritan Cancer Program and the ArtsCare program incorporated this ceremonial practice by commissioning artist Wendy Brewer, of Santa Barbara, Calif., who developed two ceremonial bell installations, both representing a tree design.

Inspired by the Tree of Life, which has significance in many cultures, Brewer created two mosaic multi-panel displays. The two trees represent the seasons of fall and spring and incorporate visual elements that would be experienced during each of those seasons, further symbolizing all aspects of the life cycle. At an ArtsCare workshop facilitated by Brewer, cancer patients helped create embellishments for the trees, such as flowers, animals, birds or other items of significance.

Both trees are installed in buildings located on the campus of Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, one at Radiation Oncology and the other at infusion services — allowing oncology patients, like Burns, who receive treatment in Corvallis to commemorate the transition from treatment to survivorship.