There’s a long-standing tradition at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre in Regina, in which cancer patients will get to ring a bell three times after they are told they have no further treatments, and the cancer is out of the body.
Now, thanks to the generosity of local woman Wanda Stang, who is a cancer survivor, the cancer patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Estevan will get a similar experience.
“When you’re ringing that bell, there’s something that comes,” Stang told the Mercury. “It’s such a (wonderful) feeling. You can’t express how it feels to ring that bell, because you’ve gone through so much. And this is closing of one chapter of your journey, and now you’re going to start a whole new chapter.”
Stang recalled that when she first started receiving chemotherapy at the cancer centre, she saw someone ringing the bell. She asked what it was about, and they told her.
Since that time, she’s only seen one other person ring that bell.
“It gave me such hope, and there was so much happiness when that person rang that bell, from everyone in that cancer centre. And I thought ‘You know what? I could do that someday.’”
Stang was diagnosed with cancer in early 2019. At first it was difficult to get a diagnosis, and she became very sick. Eventually she was diagnosed with colon cancer. A life-saving surgery occurred in Regina on June 9, 2019.
On Aug. 11, her surgeon in Regina referred her to a colleague for surgery in Saskatoon. She was booked for an operation, and it was a success.
When she received her cancer treatments in Estevan, she asked the nurses if she would be able to ring a bell at St. Joe’s. The nurses apologetically replied that there wasn’t such a bell available.
At that point, Stang said her family was going to change that by creating a bell and a plaque with a tribute to those who have gone through a cancer journey.
She had her final chemotherapy treatment on March 11 at St. Joseph’s. The bell was being made at that point, and it was rang for the first time by Stang on March 23, with her husband Mike and all of the chemotherapy nurses present.
“I wanted to be the person to ring the bell in Estevan. It’s a new beginning. I’m sure they’re going to put it in the chemo room. I just want everyone to ring that bell. I’ve met so many beautiful people through there.”
When she rang it for the first time, it was absolutely beautiful, the “best sound ever,” she said.
The plaque has a couple of poems that reflect on the experiences of a cancer patient. It was completed by Steven Raymond, who is a paramedic with Estevan Emergency Medical Services.
A short verse and a long verse on the plaque are courtesy of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. When someone rings the bell in Regina, they usually recite the short verse. But when Stang rang the bell in Estevan, she read the longer verse.
Stang said they are so pleased with how the plaque and the bell turned out.
“I hope that bell gets worn out,” Stang said. “That’s all we want.”
The poems are about everybody, because each person matters, she said. Your whole attitude changes when you go through something like this, because you don’t sweat the little things any longer.
“People I didn’t even know have sent stuff to me, and I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the generosity of this place. I’m overwhelmed,” said Stang.
The chemotherapy area is a big part of the hospital, she said. Going to chemotherapy was like a spa day for her, because that’s how the staff made her feel.
“Every one of those girls at the front entrance there, at the administration, made me feel special. And they started my day off. And they probably didn’t realize that. But how they talked to me, and their smiles, they always made me feel special.
“You’d go in for bloodwork, you’d go into the lab, you’d get stuff done. You’d go in for all of these scans, and the pharmacists, everybody, it’s amazing how they treat you. They go above and beyond, and people need to know that.”
She’s thankful for the support she has received, and she has an even greater realization of how precious life is.
“People have been so gracious. There’s nothing they haven’t done. Our home has been flooded with phone calls, e-mails, cards, flowers, gifts of food, clothing, you name it. People have brought it here. And our whole family can’t thank people enough. There’s no word to say thank you, how we feel. And we just want to help wherever we can. And if anyone ever wants to talk about cancer, I’m very open to it.”
Prayer has been a big part of recovery as well, as Stang believes that if God leads you to it, He will see you through it.
She is now proceeding with caution, like any other cancer patient. Even though she has been told she doesn’t have cancer now, she will continue to receive scans every three months for the next few years, and then it will be every six months.