Celebrating an End and a Beginning
What do a borrowed old-fashioned school bell, a TV table cart, and a blanket all have in common? They were the critical elements with which a young woman was able to celebrate a momentous milestone at the IWK last month.
On June 25, under drizzly skies in Newman Gardens, Noemie Mazerolle, rang the heck out of that bell to indicate the end of her cancer treatment.
A driven, caring, intelligent young woman from Northern New Brunswick, Noemie’s world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed in February 2020 with an aggressive form of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Noemie now found herself, undergoing five cycles of chemotherapy, every 21 days followed by 14 days of radiation, and travelling back and forth between Northern NB, Moncton, and the IWK, instead of working part-time at a convenience store, touring universities in Ontario, riding her horse, and taking care of her two rescue dogs.
A difficult diagnosis under any condition, it was exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19. This meant, Noemie’s dad, Daniel, and her stepmother, Sylvie Godin, had to take turns being at her side.
“The whole care team at the IWK has been amazing, and have always made Noemie feel cared for and safe,” Godin says. “Everyone has been available whenever we need them, from Oncology to Health Records, to the clinics. So when treatment was over, and there were some obstacles in the way for her celebration, we were not surprised when they went above and beyond to innovate so we could all celebrate with Noemie.”
The Bell Ringing Ceremony
The Hematology, Oncology and Nephrology service at the IWK recognizes that the journey of a life-threatening illness is a hard one, with many challenges and adjustments along the way. Because of this, the team has an ‘End of Treatment’ bell. The bell is there for children and youth to ring at milestone moments. Ringing the bell means that a child or youth has finished their course of treatment and is ready for the next chapter of their life. It’s a moment for everyone to celebrate. It is an opportunity to reflect on the emotional and physical journey they and their loved ones have come through, as well as a moment to look forward with hope for the future.
Amy Bryden, Oncology Hematology Family Care Coordinator, explains some of the challenges that were faced.
“Noemie is one of the first patients to finish treatment during COVID-19,” Bryden says. “The bell that is usually rung on the floor is attached to the wall so that one could not be used, because we could not mix inpatients and outpatients. And even if that wasn’t a hurdle, only one of her family members would have been able to be with her, due to support people restrictions. And we also had to observe infection prevention and control protocols and social distancing.”
As evidenced on a daily basis at the IWK, not even COVID-19 could get between a patient and the special care and comfort that’s provided. It was important to the team that they find a way to have this celebration, in a safe way, with both family members in attendance to witness.
“I sent an email to the team asking for suggestions, then the clinical leader of 6 north sent to management and the lead physician Dr. Conrad Fernandez,” Bryden says. “We also collaborated with Child Life, so it was truly a group effort.”
And so, on June 25, in front of both her dad and her stepmom, and IWK staff and physicians, Noemie’s smile shone through the drizzle, as the bell peeled and she received her end of treatment certificate.
“The bell signifies the end of my treatment and the beginning of my new life and new reality,” Mazerolle says. “The team here is awesome, caring, and kind. The fact they were able to coordinate this for me proves that.”
It’s a new reality for all of them, dad, stepmom and Noemie. New routines, new habits, new precautions. But she is back to hanging out with her friends, riding her horse Gypsy, and petting her doggies, Dakota and Rosco.