Rhod Gilbert: Bittersweet end of treatment bell memories shared

The moment five-year-old Cian Case rang a bell to mark the end of his cancer treatment remains a source of comfort to his grieving dad.

Cian's cancer returned and he died aged six in 2018.

This week a video of comedian Rhod Gilbert tearfully ringing a bell to mark the end of his cancer treatment went viral, prompting many to relive their own experiences.

For Cian's dad Richard, the day his child proudly rang the bell and thanked assembled family and hospital staff was an important milestone and will always be a fond memory.

"It's a video that I occasionally watch just to raise my own spirits," said Richard, from Llanharan, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Cian was admitted to the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Talbot Green with stomach pains in November 2015.

A scan revealed he had a tumour on his spine and tests later showed the cancer had spread to his brain.

After his diagnosis, Cian and his family spent most of their time at Noah's Ark Children's Hospital for Wales in Cardiff.

"We were quite aware of the bell being on the ward," said Richard.

"We saw lots of children come in, complete their treatment and ring the bell so it was always something that we aspired to do with Cian's treatment."

He said while Cian was very unwell, seeing other children ring the bell would leave him with "very mixed" emotions.

"You're so happy for the other families because you get to know them [and] it's a big, big milestone, something that you've got to celebrate," he said.

"There's ups and downs going through cancer treatment and you don't know whether you're going to make it - but you do have to have that hope. The bell is a symbol of that hope."

The day Cian rang the bell in July 2016 was emotionally-charged for the whole family with many tears shed, he said.

But the ringing of the bell isn't always the end of a cancer journey.

"We were able to enjoy the time that we had with him... but the prognosis of the particular cancer that he had was very poor," said Richard.

Cian's cancer returned in November 2017

In November 2017, Cian's family were told his cancer had returned.

The only option was palliative care which took place mainly at home. Cian died two months later.

Despite Richard's huge loss, he still sees the bell as a "something lovely".

"Once Cian passed away you live for the memories and the good times," he said.

"That was a key milestone for us and a lovely memory because it did bring everybody together. The whole family, all the people that were treating Cian and all the charities."

According to Children with Cancer UK, the bell first was used in the UK after an eight-year-old called Emma went to the USA for Proton Beam Therapy and enjoyed ringing the bell at the end of her treatment.

Once back in the UK, a bell was made in time for her last chemo session and she was the first to ring it at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital.

Emma's mum Tracey Payton then founded The End of Treatment Bells charity, which has placed over 350 bells around the UK and abroad.

Julia Minney's 10-year-old Isabella was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was seven.

Two weeks before Isabella rang the bell at Swansea's Morriston Hospital, Julia was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"We thought life was going to return to normal, unfortunately it hasn't", said Julia from Penclawdd,Gower.

Julia said when Isabella was having treatment she would say "I can't wait to ring the bell", so after three years of treatment it was a big moment.

"We were all crying and she was really emotional - there's a little poem they read out and it's just really emotional... it's something you didn't know if you were going to get to," said Julia.

"It's a very surreal situation, you've been living this cancer hospital life and when you ring that bell it is also like you've lost your security blanket... you're not going to be having nurses around you all time time, blood tests... it's a shock to the system."

Isabella is now having monthly check-ups which will become less frequent over time.

Julia's own cancer treatment has been going well. Her treatment finishes at the end of December and she hopes to ring the bell herself soon.

"It's weird because I don't want to take it away from Isabella really, that's her thing and we spent so many years looking forward to her ringing the bell... but I think she's excited about the fact that both of us will have had that experience together."

Sally Lee, 59, from Newport, got to ring the bell just last week, following six months of treatment for stage four Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

She said the bell gave her something to aim for.

"It kept me fighting, it kept me going," she said.

And the moment did not disappoint.

"To get to that final hurdle and to ring the bell was ecstatic for me. There were happy tears."

Sally said she still had "a long way to go" and had been left with anxiety about her health, but was incredibly grateful for her special moment.

"It's just amazing to have achieved that basically... that satisfaction that you've beaten it, you've done it."