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Hope Rings Out: The Love Story Behind the Bell
Sep 06, 2023

Hope Rings Out: The Love Story Behind the Bell

In the face of adversity, love often reveals its true strength and resilience. That has certainly been true for Bryan and Liz. In 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Liz underwent a total hysterectomy and received the crushing news that she had ovarian cancer. Her gynecologic oncologist at WVCI,  Dr. Audrey Garrett, recommended chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells that might be left. As a wife and mom of 2, Liz was determined to do whatever it took for her family’s sake, and for herself. In her case, that meant 6 rounds of exhausting chemotherapy treatments. And because of the pandemic, she would have to endure them alone. No visitors meant Bryan and her children were not allowed in the infusion areas to reduce possible exposure of COVID-19. It turned out the long, lonely hours Liz would spend in the infusion chair would be equally matched by the hours Bryan would spend in their van. He did his best to park within sight of Liz’s infusion window, so that she could look out and know he was there. 

The Genesis of an Idea

With hours to think, Bryan began to consider how their family could honor the end of Liz’s chemo treatments. He'd come across the tradition of ringing a bell to mark a milestone in someone’s cancer journey or to celebrate the end of treatment as a powerful symbol of victory over the disease. He really liked the idea, but unfortunately, WVCI had no bell. So inspired by the tradition, Bryan began to form a plan for getting  something to commemorate Liz's journey. Something special, something that could resound the relief and triumph she would surely feel that final day.Bryan and Liz

His search led to a bell online that he purchased, but it didn’t come with a hook or stand. Since Bryan couldn’t go inside the clinic to hang it due to COVID, he decided he’d build a stand so one day Liz could ring it outside, undercover, surrounded by family and friends. As the days and weeks of treatment passed, while Liz recovered on the couch, Bryan would slip away to work on the bell stand in their garage. On days she worked, he made time to get as much done as he could.

Wanting the bell to be a surprise, he told Liz the project in the garage was a coat rack. Bryan's ruse allowed him to continue his project without arousing too much suspicion. He even enlisted Liz's help, requesting her assistance on what she believed to be a housewarming present for his brother. Little did she know that she was literally lending a “hand” to what would become a poignant symbol for her and many cancer patients after her.

The Unspoken Understanding

Despite Bryan's careful planning, there were moments of uncertainty. Liz noticed imperfections in the "coat rack.” For one thing, the pegs didn’t seem quite right for holding coats, they’d slide right off she remembered thinking. Was it tall enough? Liz decided not to voice her concerns too much or push the issue because she trusted Bryan’s skill and he seemed intent on his design. Besides she was too wiped out from all the chemo and decided to just let it go.

The Sweet Sound of Victory
Bell Stand

Bryan worked as quickly as he could to finish the bell stand. Then, on the last day of her 6th round of treatment, Bryan drove Liz carefully to WVCI. Undercover in the back of the van was something he hoped wouldn’t clank and give itself away. Luckily for him,  Liz didn't notice a thing. Hours later when she’d finished treatment, Liz thanked the staff and headed for the clinic doors. This time, she was met by her family and friends who had gathered to celebrate this moment with her. That's when she saw the “coat rack.” It had been transformed into a handsome stand for the bell with a custom plaque that reads: “Ring the bell three times well to celebrate this day. This course is run, my treatment done, now I am on my way.” And so, she rang it – gladly!

Playing it Forward

These days, Liz is doing well and back to work -only no longer as a receptionist, but as a Medical Assistant. Her experience inspired her to go back to school to work on her nursing pre-requisites so that she could help others facing their health challenges. In the same spirit of paying it forward at work, Bryan & Liz want to help encourage others facing cancer to celebrate any personal milestones or victories.  Thanks to their gift, the bell now has a special place of honor just inside the sliding front doors at WVCI so that any patient can ring it, whenever, and however they choose. Sometimes groups gather outside with the bell under the awning like Liz did, others ringing it loudly right where it stands, and sometimes the rope is tugged gently as it's passed - to the applause of any staff that hear it. Every 6 months or so, when Liz visits WVCI for a check-up and overhears someone ringing the bell, she can’t help smiling. “It’s come full circle,” she says reflecting on her own health journey. With each ring of the bell, Bryan's love and Liz's triumph echo a punctuation in someone else's story.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, learn how Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center can help.

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