The bell hangs near the nurses’ station at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, but the nurses never ring it. Only young patients who have finished chemotherapy or radiation are allowed to clang the brass bell that signals the end of their treatments.
Janet Pruneau rang the bell on Sunday, tentatively at first, but after encouragement from family, friends and hospital staff, pulled it six times for each round of chemotherapy she had endured.
“I’d like her to ring it 100 times if she wants to,” said Kathryn Lenhardt, Janet’s grandmother.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can last from six months to several years. About 50 kids ring the bell each year at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Most, like Janet, request a party. The local charity Friends of Kids with Cancer helps provide cake and presents.
“Our families have loved it because they actually look forward to this day now,” said Jenny Brandt, a child life specialist at the hospital. “Our staff get very emotional, because it also symbolizes all the hard work they have done with the patients and families.”
Doctors discovered last spring that Janet, of O’Fallon, Ill., had a tumor in the back of her head. Biopsy results were inconclusive, so the 5-year-old became one of the first children to have genetic sequencing to help doctors with a treatment plan.
The tiny girl has spent more time in the hospital than at home since her treatment started, including Halloween, her birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her family’s prayers won’t end with the treatment. Janet will have scans in February, and regularly for years to check for recurrence.
Dr. Emily Walling said she’s thrilled that Janet finished chemotherapy but is sad she won’t see her as often. One of her favorite memories is hearing Janet and her roommate’s giggles echo across the oncology floor.
“It’s a privilege to take them through this difficult time,” Walling said. “And it’s encouragement to other patients that we can beat this.”