For patients undergoing chemotherapy, some days are better than others. There is, however, one day which always stands out, the final day of treatment. To patients and staff at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, that day is also known as Bravery Bell day.
“They call it the Bravery Bell now, but I think it’s the bell of hope because I think it gives you hope,” said Donna McCullagh in an interview with the Toronto Star
in September 2015.
Where the Bravery Bell began
Initially called the Chemo Bell, Donna was the first to bring the long-celebrated tradition to The Princess Margaret to give patients something to look forward to at the end of their chemotherapy treatments. She was inspired by a similar bell she saw at a hospital in the United States and brought the tradition back home shortly before she retired in 2003.
Patients ring bells in hospitals around the world to mark the end of their treatments. The Princess Margaret also has a Radiation Gong for patients to mark the end of their radiation treatment.
Donna recalled, while receiving her own treatment, hearing patients enthusiastically ringing the bell and feeling happy because they met their goal. She rang the bell herself after finishing her last chemo treatment for colon cancer.
“That’s sort of the core of the bell, this feeling that you’ve accomplished something. You went through this—whether it’s six or eight or 10 courses of chemo—and you made it!”
Donna spent 25 years as a nurse at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre before undergoing her own cancer journey. She died on September 28, 2016 at the age of 77 and was remembered in a heart warming article in the Toronto Star
two weeks later. Her legacy lives on to this day through the Bravery Bell.
What the Bravery Bell means to our patients
For patients who feel the Bravery Bell is an important milestone and celebratory moment in their cancer journeys, hospital staff are happy to gather together with the patient's family and friends to celebrate and applaud the ringing of the bell.
"It is pure joy for patients, their families and our staff. There are hugs and smiles and tears; we never get tired of those moments," says Marina Kaufman, Nurse Manager, systemic therapy.
“To me, the Bravery Bell means that you’re beating cancer,” says Anthony Cella, who underwent chemotherapy to treat multiple myeloma. “For me, ringing the bell means I’ve won one round of the fight and hopefully that’s the only round I have to do and stay in remission.”
Kelly Brooks didn’t ring the Bravery Bell, but her sister Stacey did after receiving chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.
“The Bravery Bell [is] a symbol of hope for everybody on the day that you ring that bell,” says Brooks. “If you have that opportunity, ring that bell loud for everybody that has supported you. And for every other person who has to follow in your footsteps in that journey.”