By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
A symbolic bell hung on the wall of a hallway in Vidant Edgecombe Hospital’s cancer center Thursday evening.
Eva L. Thompson, an 84-year-old cancer survivor undergoing treatment, rang the bell she donated to the center for the first time.
“She is just such a caring and compassionate lady. She wanted our center to have things to impact the lives of our patients and improve their lives during treatment,” said Suzanne Schupp, cancer center manager. “We thought the bell would be just a great way to celebrate their accomplishments.”
Cancer survivors lined up behind Thompson in the hallway and each took a turn ringing the bell, symbolizing the end of his/ her treatment at the center. One survivor rang the bell so hard that it fell off the wall. Scott Phillips, oncology patient navigator, held up the bell for those remaining in line, and another survivor grasped the string holding the bell so forcefully that it fell into Phillips’ hand, causing laughter to erupt among the other survivors in the room. They knew that the bell itself was only a symbol, a symbol of their fight to survive, and triumph over cancer.
“It made my heart pound. It almost made me cry,” said Carolyn Batts, 66, a breast cancer survivor who finished her treatments around Thanksgiving last year. “I’m liberated now…I made it. I see the world with new eyes.”
“Victorious” is the word that breast cancer survivor S.B. used to describe the way ringing the bell made her feel. She has finished her treatment for the most part, and will go into the center for her last preventative chemotherapy treatment in October.
Another breast cancer survivor, Doris Barnes, smiled broadly as she took her turn ringing the bell.
“It’s great to be here to ring that bell,” Barnes said. Aug. 30 marks the one-year anniversary of Barnes’ completion of her treatment at the center. She shared that she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a “very aggressive” form of breast cancer, in October 2011, at the age of 55. She said she was happy to see the people who supported her through her struggle with cancer.
“When you get here, you just become a family. You get so many hugs and so much love that you just don’t ever want to leave,” Barnes said. “These folks make you feel really good about yourself.”
Camaraderie was the theme of the treatment completion party Thursday evening, as cancer survivors reunited with center staff and fellow survivors and shared stories with each other while enjoying refreshments and winning door prizes.
“I have met so many people that God has put in my path…through this journey of mine,” Batts said to the small crowd gathered to celebrate. From day one, Batts was told that she would be taken care of at the cancer center, and she was.
“I don’t think I could’ve gotten treated any better than I was,” she said.
Batts got a chance to catch up with S.B. at the treatment completion party. The ladies had an instant connection when they learned that they both had breast cancer while sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office and reconnected during treatment at the cancer center.
“It was good seeing everybody, because I haven’t seen them since I finished my treatment,” S.B. said. “I don’t think I probably would’ve made it without the support of other people…Somebody was going through the same thing as I was. We could share our stories.”
Going through chemotherapy treatments can be a nearly all-day event, and some patients go through months of treatments.
“They form close relationships with the staff and each other,” Schupp said.
Reuniting with staff and fellow survivors is one of the main reasons for the cancer treatment completion party, one that the cancer center staff hopes to host again in the near future.