With the ring of a bell, kids mark the end of chemotherapy

The ringing signifies an incredible milestone for pediatric cancer patients at Norton Children's Cancer Institute.

With a few tugs on a knotted rope, 16-year-old Jillian Hebermehl rang the bell that marked the end of her chemotherapy.

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The ringing echoed past cheering nurses, signifying an incredible milestone for yet another pediatric cancer patient at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. A big grin, hidden behind Jillian’s surgical mask, narrowed her excited eyes. Her shoulders relaxed with a sigh of relief.

“I’m excited to ring the bell to show that I’ve made it through the worst part of my life, but at the same time it’s been the most humbling and best part of my life,” Jillian said. “It symbolizes my journey, my fight is finally over.”

Now, she’s ready to get back to her family, dogs and some normalcy. Just two months into the coronavirus pandemic, as many teens were learning to adapt to a new normal, Jillian was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“The call kind of rocked my world,” Jillian said.

But she pushed through — continuing with school throughout her fight, and even taking on the production of a documentary to share her cancer journey.

“She’s the smartest, most courageous young woman that I’ve met in a while,” said Sarah Pierce, R.N., a Norton Children’s Hospital nurse. “She had no fear and never complained and was always ready to do the next step.”

Now, Sarah and fellow providers are looking forward to celebrating more patients taking steps toward that bell.

The bell exists today thanks to a boy who once spent time at the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Norton Children’s Hospital. Two-time cancer survivor Aiden Johnson recently made a donation to the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation to fund installation of the bell. He raised the money through Aiden’s Legacy to help other pediatric cancer patients celebrate their special victories.