Virus rules push bell ringing chemotherapy ceremony outside
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — As the spring sun warmed the courtyard outside Banner North Colorado Medical Center’s cancer unit, Casey Pearson was simply relieved.
Pearson, who was celebrating his final chemotherapy treatment with the traditional ringing of the bell ceremony Monday, had been surprised several hours earlier by family and friends who expected to celebrate with him a little after noon. But medicine is unpredictable, and a minor complication with the therapy had required the surprise to predate the celebration by the better part of an afternoon.
So Pearson, who lives in Eaton, was relieved for many reasons when he exited the chemotherapy ward and emerged into the courtyard where, dutifully, friends and family remained to cheer him in an unusual ceremony in a time when visitors couldn’t be allowed inside the place where these immunocompromised folks were being treated.
“This is what I needed to complete the whole process,” Pearson said. “PET scan in a few days, and they’ll evaluate, but I needed this to be a conclusion and know I’m on the right track to recovery and feel good. Back to normal life.”
Casey’s wife, Cori Pearson, who happens to be an employee of NCMC, was relieved, as well. The treatments had started as normally as any cancer treatment can in that Cori was able to be with Casey throughout the early process, remaining by his side during his first several months of chemo and other preliminary parts of his care.
Then the pandemic hit, and Casey’s treatment went from accompanied to solo, at least as far as family support goes. He was quick to point out the great care shown to him by the nurses and medical staff at NCMC.
“I felt very isolated. Some of these processes take five or six hours,” Pearson said. “But nurses have stepped in. I know them each personally, and they’ve been the backbone I’ve needed.”
But it was a unique part of an already unique challenge, Cori observed.
“I was with him when he started getting sick and through biopsies and surgeries,” she said. “He started chemo right before Christmas. I went to seven of the 12 (treatments) with him. I’d just work from the cancer center, but it’s been really hard to drop him off. This morning I said, ‘I’m so glad this is the last time to drop you off by yourself.’ It’s hard, I think because I really feel I’ve been his advocate along the way, asking questions, printing lab results, one because that’s my personality being a caregiver, but it’s been hard. I text, ‘How were labs, what did the doctor say?’ That’s been hard.”
The previously healthy 46-year-old father of two, Casey Pearson had hardly spent any time in a hospital before he was diagnosed in December with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and began undergoing 12 rounds of chemotherapy treatments. Monday was his last, and he celebrated with the ringing of the bell, a popular tradition to signify the end of the difficult treatment.
The ceremony would normally take place inside the treatment center, but with the restrictions due to the pandemic, that would’ve prohibited friends and family from attending. So Holly Cooan, a nurse in the treatment center, hatched a plan.
“We used to have people bring a family member or two to receive their diagnosis and to cancer treatment class, because another set of ears is useful for when you’ve received a life-changing diagnosis,” Cooan said. “Cori came many times, and then to every single treatment. The first treatment, it’s horrifying. You don’t know what we’re attaching to you. People are afraid. And then if they complete their chemo and the final chemo celebration, families come and take pictures and it’s all wonderful. And if somebody ended up being transferred to hospice, they’d have a family member present to receive that news. Then COVID happened, and now people are alone to get their life-changing diagnosis, alone for their class, alone for their first treatment and all subsequent treatments. If our patients get COVID, they’ll probably die. Then they’re alone for their celebration, and it’s big whoop. It sucks.
“We’ve been talking for a long time to figure out something so they have some time where they’re not alone. We couldn’t get approval to sit out (in the courtyard) for every treatment or even a full treatment because of logistics. So we thought maybe the final chemo celebration, that’s something. It’s a very important moment for them.”
That meant a great deal to the Pearsons.
“I’ve been through so much the last six months, and it’s been a rollercoaster,” Casey Pearson said. “But I couldn’t ask for better care from Banner and the M.D. Anderson center. They’ve been the family and support system I’ve needed this whole time.”