If you’re in Ithaca this weekend, you know that it’s graduation time at Cornell University.

Graduations are filled with rituals that symbolize closing one chapter in life and moving on to the next. There’s celebration, change and uncertainty.

Finishing cancer treatment is also a time of celebration, change and uncertainty. Here in Ithaca, there’s ritual as well.

When patients finish their last round of chemotherapy at Cayuga Hematology Oncology Associates, they ring a large bell that’s affixed to the wall in the chemo suite. Everyone cheers. It’s a good feeling.

Nearly everyone is scared when they begin chemotherapy. Getting through it is a big deal. More than a few have told me it was the toughest thing they ever did.

After ringing the bell, the patient leaves the office and usually thinks, “I’m going to miss my friends – the nurses, therapists and doctors – who have been with me throughout treatment.”

When they get home, they then wonder, “Now what?” The next chapter in life is suddenly upon them.

I’ve been thinking about the parallels between college graduation and finishing cancer treatment. A noteworthy difference is that students typically go through college as members of a particular class. Many start together and finish together.

Cancer patients can’t wait until Labor Day to begin treatment together. It’s a more solitary experience. They begin when they need to begin and they finish at different times

Cancer patients also worry about a recurrence of the disease. The uncertainty when leaving college is tinged with excitement. The uncertainty when finishing cancer treatment is more often tinged with fear.

But just as a college graduation is a time to celebrate, we should celebrate milestones in our cancer treatment and recovery. More than anyone, those of us with cancer recognize that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

So, let’s ring the bell and celebrate today.

 


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: May 23, 2015

 

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