Published on October 06, 2013
Seven-year-old Megan Devine glances at some of the gifts she received as she holds the bell that rang at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital’s oncology department, signifying, for her, the end of 16 months of chemotherapy.TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on October 06, 2013
Family and oncology unit staff celebrate with Megan after she rung the bell. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on October 06, 2013
The inscription on the bell, donated in 2009 by Eugene Smith, reads: In honour of those who travel this this road. Ring it loud. Ring it proud.’ TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Bell ringing days to mark end of chemotherapy are special at the oncology unit
By Tina Comeau
After all of the poking and the prodding.
The MRIs and the medication.
The tests. The tumours.
It was little wonder that seven-year-old Megan Devine couldn’t wait to ring the bell at the oncology unit at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital on Monday, Sept. 30.
After all Megan, a Grade 2 student at Meadowfields and the daughter of Janine and Clayton Devine of Pembroke, had completed 16 months of chemotherapy at the unit.
The ringing of the bell officially signified the end of that process.
“Can I ring it now?” she’d ask her mother and grandmother.
“Can I ring it now?” she’d ask her doctor.
As the bell was presented to Megan, surrounding her were her mother, her grandmother Dot Comeau, her doctor, and nurses and staff of the oncology department. A few shouted out a countdown, “One, two, three . . . go!” The little girl picked up the bell, smiling, and rang it before quickly placing it back down.
“More! More! More!” the people shouted in the room, before showering Megan with hugs, applause and gifts after she rang the bell one more time.
Other patients in the room undergoing their chemo treatments also applauded. Some of those family members wiped away tears.
(You can click here to watch Megan ring the bell.)
Megan didn’t have cancer, but she had a condition that required chemotherapy nonetheless. When she was just a toddler she was diagnosed at the IWK Health Centre with a condition called neurofibromatosis.
It first presented itself as birthmarks and “bubbles” covering her skin. It’s a genetic condition that can be passed on from a parent, or the person can develop it on their own, which is how Megan came to have it.
At 18 months she still wasn’t walking and by the time she was two years old a chest x-ray located a tumour the size of small grapefruit tucked in behind her lung.
Neurofibromatosis is a syndrome that can affect many parts of the body, including the brain, spinal cord, nerves and skin.
The effects of the syndrome can vary from person to person. Another result of the syndrome is the growth of non-cancerous tumours on nerve endings.
When Megan was approaching the age of four, MRIs and scans showed that she had tumours growing on her optic nerves, putting her eyesight at risk. Eventually it was decided to have her undergo chemotherapy.
At the age of five she underwent her first chemotherapy treatment at the IWK. Beyond this she was able to have the treatments at the hospital in Yarmouth. Her family was told the treatments would last 18 months.
And so once a week she’d go to the unit for chemo. The appointment would start around 9 a.m. She’d undergo a checkup with her pediatrician. She’d be hydrated for two hours. She’d be medicated. And then she’d go through the chemotherapy treatment. It was practically an all-day process.
She’d always sit in the pink chair, which was the only pink chair in the unit (it was donated to the unit by the ladies auxiliary in Hebron).
When she turned six, the oncology department staff surprised her with a room they had decorated with Justin Bieber posters.
The staff also celebrated Megan’s seventh birthday with her.
Megan says the treatments didn’t hurt. But her mother says they made her tired, she’d have a lot of headaches and a sore stomach.
“Everywhere she goes she makes an impression on people. She’s just a ray of sunshine. It makes me mad that she had to go through all this, but at the same time, because of it everybody got to meet her.” Janine Devine, Megan's mother
So you can imagine how the family felt when they were told Megan’s chemotherapy was finally over. And over early too, after just 16 months. Although for a little girl, that was long enough her mother says.
At the oncology unit of the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, it is considered a good day when someone gets to ring the bell to signal the end of their chemotherapy.
The bell the patients ring is one that was donated to the unit by Eugene Smith, a former cancer patient.
“His sister was familiar with the bell ringing at the completion of chemo treatment in Ontario at a cancer centre there, so when he completed his treatments she sent him this bell,” explains Heather Campbell, the team leader of the oncology department at the Yarmouth hospital. “He did ring it, then he decided he wanted to have it engraved and donated it to the unit so others could have that experience.”
The inscription on the bell, donated in 2009, reads in part: ‘In honour of those who travel this road. Ring it loud. Ring it proud.’
Over the years the bell has been rung a lot. Campbell says the mood on those days is celebratory, but they are also days that present a mixture of emotions.
Joy mixed with apprehension. Accomplishment laced with uncertainty.
“It is an accomplishment to complete this part of the journey, but a lot of times there’s apprehension about not knowing what the next part of the journey will hold,” Campbell says, adding, “And the sad part is, not everybody gets to ring the bell.”
It is also a bittersweet moment, because it means an end to that regular interaction between the staff, the patient and the family.
Megan’s mother Janine says they will miss the staff at the oncology unit. She’s thankful for their support, and everyone else’s support.
“There were fundraisers that were done for her to help us with the travel expenses to Halifax and the medications, and stuff like that,” says her mother. “We had so much support, family, friends, my work, her school. People came out of the woodwork that I didn’t even know. Everywhere she goes she makes an impression on people. She’s just a ray of sunshine. It makes me mad that she had to go through all this, but at the same time, because of it everybody got to meet her.”
Megan will still have to undergo checkups and medical appointments to monitor her condition. Still, now the family is looking forward to some normalcy – where a little girl whose favourite food is chocolate and who enjoys horseback riding – doesn’t have to spend every week undergoing a chemotherapy treatment. She can also look forward to a family trip to Disneyworld in the coming months.
Says Heather Campbell about the bell – for those who ring it, or for those who make it their goal to ring it – “It helps to instill and build on hope, because without hope, we know where things go from there.
“It is sad for others too that don’t get to that stage,” says Campbell. “And then we’ve had patients who have rung the bell and then they’re here again.”
Hopefully for those people, they’ll get the opportunity to ring the bell a second time.
As for Megan and her family, they’re counting on once being enough.