9. A lesson on celebrating joys and honoring struggles in the face of cancer

This one’s for you, mom.

The Emory Cancer Winship Center has a brass bell with a braided rope that patients ring when they finish their course of radiation.  Earlier this summer, my mother finished her radiation treatment for brain cancer and at the end of it all, I wheeled her up to the bell, which sits roughly at my height on a wall.

As the staff and other patients gathered around to celebrate the end of treatment, I wondered if she’d have the strength to reach up and ring this bell from a seated position in her wheelchair.  I took out my phone to capture the moment as she slowly, with what seemed like all her might, grabbed a hold of the rope strap and began swinging it gently without expression.


At first there wasn’t enough momentum to sound the bell, and my heart sank, because I wanted so badly for her to ring in sweet relief and hope with this bell.  I heard whispers behind me and other sunken hearts.  But then came the sweet sound of the bell, not once, not twice but three times.  With each ring, her pull-back was stronger, and the sound louder than the one before.  Just when I thought she was done with her three rings, she looked over at me, paused, smiled a half-smile, and with a glimmer of mischief in her eyes, she went full-force and rang that bell for the entire Cancer Winship Center to hear. On and on and on.  In all fairness, they never said she should only ring it once.

She passed away peacefully a few weeks ago after battling cancer for several months.

My mother was a kind, generous, and courageous soul who embraced life fully.  She celebrated all of life’s joys and honored all her struggles alike – as is evidenced by ringing of the bell – and saw the grace and goodness in it all.

Even in her darkest of hours, when she was really battling this disease, I’d often ask “Mom, how are you doing?” and she would respond softly, “I’m good”.  And she meant it.  I suppose that’s what it means to live your truth.

Rare lung disease or not, we could all take a page from her book and learn how to embrace life – the good and the bad – and to be grateful for both.

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