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Hospital bell signals patients’ milestones in cancer fight

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Updated: January 24, 2014 6:24AM



Just as a lullaby plays to celebrate the birth of a new baby at Silver Cross Hospital, cancer patients now have a reason to ring and rejoice and signal a milestone of their own.

Inside the Carolyn J. Czerkies Pavilion at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, on the hospital’s New Lenox campus at 1850 Silver Cross Boulevard, a 21-pound solid brass bell beckons all cancer patients to pull its cord to mark the completion of their radiation treatments.

It was a unique donation by Homer Glen resident Art Grindler and his daughter Barbara Widelski of New Lenox, who have both battled cancer.

“It’s like a celebration of life when you’re done,” said Widelski, a three-time cancer survivor, who rang a similar bell at the center where she was treated for her cancer. “Our goal is to encourage and inspire others.”

“Oftentimes there are setbacks with cancer, so it is important to acknowledge a patient’s achievements. Ringing the bell to celebrate this special milestone is a step toward hope for physical and mental well-being, not only for patients but their loved ones who are also affected by the disease,” she said.

“My dad and I are so happy to pass forward the gift of hope, and help others celebrate life — especially to those in our community,” she said.

The bell takes a sad experience and instead creates a beautiful memory and gives patients a sense of hope.

“We’re making lemonade out of lemons,” Widelski said.

The bell is just as special as the people who ring it.

Grindler said he needed to find “a first-class bell for the first-class medical care” that he received during his treatments here.

“I wanted a shiny bell because it shines like everyone here,” he said, referring to the staff, whom he has gotten to know personally. “Everyone has gone above and beyond. They truly care and make me feel very special. I’m so thankful. They are like family. I’ll come back, just to visit.”

He purchased the bell from a manufacturer of ships’ bells in Washington state and presented it as a gift to his oncologist, Dr. Daniel Golden, and his team of radiation therapists. Next to the bell is a plaque Grindler and his daughter had made, depicting an eagle in flight with the inscription: “Ring this bell, Three times well. Its toll to clearly say, My treatment’s done, This course is run, And I am on my way!”

Widelski said they purposely selected the eagle in flight to represent the courage and strength of patients.

“The bell has been ringing. It’s so much fun. It’s such a good feeling when you hear it,” radiation therapist Joanne Harrison said.

Golden tells patients they can ring it as loud as they want.

“This is a big accomplishment for them. We give out a diploma, but this is nice for patients to signify being done. They see it hanging here and look forward to ringing it,” he said. “Some patients come every day for seven to nine weeks. We get to know them personally.”

The radiation therapists got to know Grindler well. He has battled colon, lung and now bone cancer, and he came to University of Chicago cancer center for his treatments.

During his visits, Grindler, a widower, told them since he does not like to cook for himself, he frequently dines out. When restaurants find out he wants a table for one, he usually ends up in a corner. On one occasion, a hostess at his favorite pizza place told him they were too busy to seat just one person at a table.

“We could not believe someone would be treated like that. I was so angry,” Harrison said. “So we decided to order a pizza on his last day of treatment. We don’t do this for everyone, but this was a special circumstance.”

During the pizza party, they talked about how they would like to have a bell like other centers have. That spurred Grindler into action.

“They put me at the forefront and made me feel special,” said Grindler, who admitted that the pizza party brought him to tears.

“Even though we were only a part of Mr. Grindler’s life for a short period of time, he will forever remain in our hearts. And we will think of him every time we hear the bell toll when another patient finishes their treatment,” said Kimberly DeNardo, lead radiation therapist. “It inspires people. It gives people a renewed sense of hope.”

“Some people are wealthy enough to donate a building. I’m a small person. To be able to do something nice for the hospital is really a treat for us,” Grindler said.



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