Ringing the golden bell

Posted in Uncategorized by Sean Holton on October 2, 2009
With Ellen, my radiation mask and my certificate of completion

With Ellen, my radiation mask and my certificate of completion

 My 30th and final radiation treatment was Thursday. Right outside the door of the room where I got all my treatments, there’s a little, gold-colored bell hanging on the wall. By custom, all patients ring the bell right after their last treatment. So I pulled the chain, and the other cancer patients and their relatives who happened to be sitting there at the moment in the waiting room started clapping and cheering for me like I’d just won some big award. The radiation techs even handed me a little certificate that looks like a diploma, signed by all of the people who have been zapping my brain since August 20. In this world, just being able to ring that bell qualifies you for celebrityhood.

 My sister Ellen was there to record it all simultaneously on video and still camera, which added even more to the paparazzi atmosphere. She’s a great photographer, so all of her pictures are better than the one here. Unfortunately she’s not in any of them, so I’d rather use this shot. That T-shirt I’m wearing will be instantly recognizable to anyone who was working in the newsroom of the Orlando Sentinel during the historic hurricane season of 2004 when we were hit by three major storms in the span of about six weeks. In those days of widespread outages, “Got Power?” seemed to be the only question anyone was asking, so the graphics department just decided to have T-Shirts made up to save us all some breath.  I love the shirt. It’s an especially great shirt to be wearing on your last day of cancer treatment.

That's my last pill, Chopper. It's not a treat!

That's my last pill, Chopper. It's not a treat!

On Thursday morning I also took the last chemo pill I’ll be taking for at least another month. I get a break now to help me recover and get over this fatigue that’s really hit me hard the past two weeks. It will be a slow process. The medical people said the side effects of the radiation will last at least 2 to 4 weeks beyond the final treatment. But at least I know I’ll be feeling better every day starting today (thanks Fish). My goals for the next month are to ease back into an exercise routine, take my bike out for a decent trail ride in the cool weather and maybe even sneak in a round or two of golf.

I’ll also keep this blog going for a couple more days (maybe one more letter on Saturday and then maybe one last video on Sunday), and after that I will use this space to provide people with updates on my progress as needed. I still need to figure out a way that anyone who wants to can sign up for future bulletins. I cannot thank everyone enough for all the wonderful comments here in addition to the cards, e-mails, food and gifts that have been sent to my home. Your support has been the main thing that has kept me going.

One major lesson driven home to me so far in this process is that when you get cancer, it’s not just a scary thing that happens to you. It happens to everyone you love, and on some level it happens to anyone you’ve ever known or touched even indirectly and who still cares about you at all. And everyone just needs to be allowed to process their own feelings about that in their own way. Keeping up with this blog has been my way. Your individual response, whatever it is, has been your way. Lots of people have been praying. Some folks like my sisters and brothers have come to my house to wait on me hand and foot. Other friends have done things such as start Scary-Mary spreadsheets that assign rotating, caregiver responsibilities that result in mountains of food being pumped into my house that I could never, EVER expect to eat no matter how long I live. Lifelong friends have come to my house to pull weeds in my garden or help me install a new TV set. Or they’ve made me world-class quilts or get-well cards. People like my friend Annie Burns have sent me things such as edible fruit arrangements that have arrived on a Saturday afternoon, making them just perfect for football-watching parties. Still others have decided that the best possible response to my situation is to come to my house from far-flung places (such as Seoul, South Korea) to mix me Bloody Marys, help me wash my dogs, and to just hang out quietly because I’m too weak to accompany them to nightclubs. Whatever. I’m not judging anyone. It’s a big world out there and everyone is different.

Some people have just been thinking about me and sending me e-mails or blog comments or just keeping their thoughts to themselves — and not doing anything else. I don’t care if you haven’t sent me a card, or an e-mail, or a fruit basket, or said a formal prayer. If you have even just been thinking about me, for even one second in one single day, that’s all a prayer really is. So that’s all that matters. I love you for caring. Thank you.

Since I’m kind of weird, I ultimately look at having cancer in an inside-out sort of way. I see it like throwing a party. At this particular party, I just happen to be the host — and you all just happen to be the guests. But the secret of a good party has always been very simple: It’s an experience that the host and the guests  must create together. There’s no “guest of honor.” It’s just us.

BellI think pretty much the same secret applies to coping with cancer or dealing with your own feelings when someone you care about has cancer. That’s why I’ve been diligent about sharing my story and my other random thoughts and experiences with you on a daily basis, and why I’ve been so appreciative of your support here and through other channels. If we do it right — and so far I think we have — we can turn any piece of crap that life hands us into a golden bell.


18 Responses

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  1. Ann Hellmuth said, on October 2, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I love the idea of a celebration and a certificate. See you soon.

  2. Theola said, on October 2, 2009 at 7:09 am

    I’m so glad you are done and that Ellen could be with you for the last treatment. I have been following your blog each day and really enjoyed having you share with all of us. Hope your ‘strength regaining’ campaign goes well. Sending you my love


    PS Still keep thinking about the great book you did on the farm history!!

  3. bluedevil said, on October 2, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Way to go, Bucket! You’re looking good. Next round: MORE LIFE!!!
    Cheers from SC

  4. Diane said, on October 2, 2009 at 10:02 am

    A friend pointed me towards your blog only a week ago because the doctors had found cancer in my body. Today’s posting is such a gift to me as I prepare for surgery and recovery. I am deluged with daily emails to keep my spirits up, promises of help much like you describe (short of Sunday football), food, and housecleaning. Thank for you for the priceless gift of reminding me that this is their way of processing this, and that is a event we all share.
    Best of health to you!

  5. patd said, on October 2, 2009 at 10:35 am

    lard, that tee shirt says it all: you “got power” for sure.
    see you on the trail soon i hope.

  6. sandrafish said, on October 2, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    congrats Sean!! and thanks for being such a terrific host!!

  7. Paul Lester said, on October 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    AMAZING! Congratulations, Sean!!!

  8. Rodger Johnson said, on October 2, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Glad to hear that part of the ordeal is over.
    I saw the picture of you 2 and started thinking back in time….so I got the picture out that I still have of us out on the river when Ellen and I blew up the bomb……kinda. I don’t remember who took the picture. I hope you start feeling better soon.

  9. Molly BB said, on October 2, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Sean, take care, rest up, continue enjoing your family and friends and gain strength daily. Bill and I are going to miss your daily writings.

  10. Beth Kassab said, on October 2, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Sean, I’m one of those people out there who has been thinking of you. By the way, your blog seems like exactly what a blog should be: well-written, engaging, funny and always carrying your story forward. Hope you’re feeling better and get back on the bike soon!

  11. Mike Oliver said, on October 3, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Party’s still on!

    What can I bring?

    Looking good Sean !

  12. Lisa said, on October 3, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Good for you, you bell ringer! I hope the fatigue dissipates quickly for you.

  13. Lois Grebowski said, on October 3, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Congrats on staying the course!

  14. Stephanie Doyle said, on October 3, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Way to go on the big ding!!!!

    Thinking of you in KY,
    The Doyles

  15. Tim Holton said, on October 4, 2009 at 3:32 am

    Big Ben never rang so sweet.Now get some rest and be ready for Big Cedar.We are counting the days . This time we are the hosts of the party. (But you can still bring beer).

  16. claudine hellmuth said, on October 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Hooray!!!! so excited!!!

  17. Michele said, on October 6, 2009 at 11:07 am

    on with life!

  18. rebeany said, on October 16, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    my dear friend lisa – also from the sentinel – showed me your blog. i have been reading yours and wanted to take a moment to wish you time to recover and only forward healthy movement forward.
    my 4 year anniversary is coming up … i’ve been working it out a bit also on my blog (omg, we’re all blogging!!!)
    keep fighting the fight.

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