Snoqualmie resident rings bell for cancer milestones

October 31, 2012

By Staff

A teacher for 36 years, Anita Cox knows about bells.

So, when she was diagnosed with stage 3 uterine cancer a month after she retired from teaching in summer 2011, the Snoqualmie resident wanted something to mark milestones in her treatment at Swedish/Issaquah.

“Kind of to break it down in baby steps and mark off each step,” she said. “It’s kind of a way to celebrate getting to that one milestone.”

She heard about a friend who had battled the disease and had donated a bell to a hospital in Georgia, so she decided to be her buddy’s copycat.

When her radiation treatment ended in March, she bought a bell and rang it. So did the wife of another cancer patient at Swedish/Issaquah, who had heard Cox talk about the idea.

Besides, she said, bells are a symbol of joy and her middle name is Belle.

And when battling cancer, one needs all the joy one can get. Students from Sammamish’s Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, where she had taught for 16 years, had sent her cards and organized meals for her.

Still, it had not been easy.

“I hated the chemotherapy,” she said. “Not the chemotherapy itself, but what would follow in a couple of days.”

So, as an antidote to the antidote to cancer, she decided to do something fun every time she had chemo. Turkey hats in November; Santa hats in December. It did not hurt that she also had a strategy, borrowed — again — from her friend in Georgia.

“Somebody had told her to ‘get her bitch on.’” Cox said. “So I decided that would be my theme: Get my bitch on. I even brought a bottle of wine called ‘Bitch Wine.’”

Getting one’s , um, female canine on does not mean walking around acting mean toward people, Cox said.

“It wasn’t being bitchy,” she said. “It was just being a strong woman. It’s the strength and the courage you find you have that you never thought you had.”

When she was finished getting her you-know-what on, in March of this year, she decided to spread a little bit of that courage and joy to the cancer patients to come. She contacted the hospital’s higher-ups and suggested donating a bell.

“They ran it by the doctors and nurses and their feedback was positive,” Cox said. “We had to think of the size of the bell — we didn’t want to disturb patients.”

Cox donated two bells. She chose to add an engraved quotation to each bell. One received a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about facing one’s fears and the other received a quote from motivational speaker Emory Austin about remaining optimistic. One went to Swedish/Issaquah’s radiation unit and another went to the chemo unit.

With her cancer in remission, Cox does not get to the hospital as often, so she does not get to ring the bells much. Still, two weeks ago, she went in for a CAT scan and saw the bell for the first time.

She also surveyed the nurses.

“They told me the bells have been getting a workout,” Cox said. “People like them and that makes me feel good. Even if you know it’s not the end of the cancer treatment, it’s the end of that phase. And even if you have more phases, you can check it off the list and say, ‘Let’s move on.’”

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