Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

medical staff pulse newsletter

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Everyday Ethical Issues for Older Adults (Ethics Noon Conference)
Dec. 20

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Bell Project Inspires Cedars-Sinai Cancer Patients

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Art Tostado and Isabella Spar are shown with a newly installed ceremonial bell at Cedars-Sinai that signals the end of treatment.

When Art Tostado finished five weeks of radiation therapy this year at Cedars-Sinai, the 71-year-old became among the first cancer patients to sound a new brass bell to mark the end of the treatment.

The brief but poignant ceremony, which also includes the reading of a short poem, will be repeated again and again as other cancer patients wrap up their treatment.

"It feels wonderful to be a part of this beginning," said Tostado, who was treated for prostate cancer. "Bells have been used for thousands of years to signify journeys. Every time I hear a bell, I'll think of this moment."

The new tradition began thanks to 13-year-old Isabella Spar and her ambitious bat mitzvah project, which raises money to buy and donate celebratory bells at radiation treatment centers across the country.

Earlier this year, Isabella and her family, who are from New Jersey, visited Cedars-Sinai to dedicate the new bell, which is in the waiting room of the Department of Radiation Oncology on the lower level of the North Tower.

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Patients ring the ceremonial bell and read the poem inscribed on a plaque.

Isabella developed the idea for Project Bell when her mother, Wendy Jeshion, underwent radiation treatment for a benign brain tumor. The hospital where she received treatment had a "new beginning" bell that would ring three times when a patient completed treatment.

"When a patient rings the bell, everyone at the treatment center joins in to celebrate," said the eighth-grader. "It gives so much hope — everyone talks about when they're going to ring the bell."

Isabella soon learned that few radiation centers used bells. She became determined to see that set more cancer patients would be able to experience the joyful sense of closure that the bell ceremony brings.

Isabella started making and selling jewelry to finance her goals. She has raised more than $5,000, which she has used to donate seven bells to medical centers across the country, including Cedars-Sinai. She has enough money for five more bells as well.

The bells are installed with a plaque inscribed with a poem to be read aloud during each ceremony. The plaque reads:

Ring this bell,
Three times well
Its toll to clearly say ...
My treatment's done
The course is run
And now I'm on my way.

The ceremonial ringing isn't just meaningful for patients and their families. It's important for staff, too.

"We become like a family here, and we love celebrating this important milestone with our patients," said Lynn Abess, associate director of the Department of Radiation Oncology. "It also inspires and motivates everyone in the waiting room. They know their turn will come too."

Isabella isn't stopping with a dozen bells. Her goal is to get a bell in every hospital that wants one before she heads off to college.

"After seeing how much the bell ringing ceremony meant to my mom and family, I decided that all radiation centers should have bells," said Isabella. "It's really nice to know that more and more people will get to use the bells."