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After 18 long months of chemotherapy...

Bell rings in hope

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations

Cradled in her father’s arms, 5-year-old Kendall Hall stretches up to reach the braided rope of the Survivor’s Bell on the sixth floor of Hematology/Oncology in Rutledge Tower.

David Hall helps his daughter Kendall, who just finished 18 months of chemotherapy, ring the Survivor’s Bell that the family made and donated to the hospital.
Her mother, Cindy Hall, stops her to read a poem.
“I have no idea how she managed it,” said Hall, who also was diagnosed with cancer while her daughter was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for a spinal tumor. Hall, who still was recovering from the shock that her daughter had cancer, learned her sister’s routine mammogram revealed cancer. Hall went to get a mammogram just to be safe, and was shocked to find she also had breast cancer.
They all faced chemotherapy together. For the sisters, it was a matter of months. For Kendall, though, it stretched to 18 months before her scans were clear.
A fireball of excited energy, Kendall eyed the bell March 29, waiting for her turn to ring it as a sign her treatment was done. It has stood waiting on the hall since it was erected by her family in July 2009. Her father, David Hall, hand-carved the board and mounted an old ship’s bell he had salvaged years earlier. When asked why he didn’t wait to install the Survivor's Bell so Kendall could be the first to ring it, he shook his head decisively.
“It’s not just ours. There are people who have been through more than we have and need it just as much.”
Today, though, it was Kendall’s turn as family, friends and hospital staff gathered to celebrate. Hall read the “Survivor’s Cheer” engraved on the bell’s plaque and commanded her daughter to ring it loud and proud.
Kendall didn’t have to be told twice. With the last peal fading, her head dropped onto her father’s shoulder, her typical spirited façade gone. Instead there rested the vulnerable face of a 5-year-old girl finally free of the weight of chemotherapy.
Ringing the bell has been a long time in coming. The bell, like the family, has become a symbol of hope.
Facing challenges started at birth for Kendall, who had a wide array of health issues that worsened as she got older. She was diagnosed with pilocytic astrocyctoma in November 2007 at age 3 and had to undergo surgery followed by a month of rehabilitation to relearn to walk.
When life seemed to return somewhat to normal, the tumor came back. “That’s when the big ‘C’ entered the picture,” said Cindy. “No one had ever said the word cancer before. It’s rare to have it on the spine, and I hated to have it come back.”
As Kendall, Hall and her sister, Tammy Dye, faced their battles, David Hall had his own. David lost a sister to cancer several years ago and watched his mother successfully battle ovarian cancer last year. Still adjusting to the news of his wife and daughter’s cancers, he lost his job. The Halls worried who would take care of the family, but trusted it would all work out. David started his own business. When Cindy’s mother, Jean Lookabill, suggested a survivor’s bell, David knew he was the one to build it. He and his wife felt it was a way to give back.
“MUSC has been so awesome to us, and everyone there has been so wonderful,” said Cindy. “We wanted to give something back. To the average person, ringing a bell doesn’t sound all that special, but to someone going through chemo—when you reach that milestone of finishing chemo—it means the world to you.”
Recently Kendall was at MUSC getting fluids when another child got to ring the bell. The child was told that Kendall was in the other room and asked if she could meet her and thank her. It was a touching moment for the whole family.
It’s moments such as those that have gotten them through.
Christina McDaniel, R.N., shares a celebratory hug after Kendall rings the Survivor's Bell.

And it’s the people, said Kendall's mom. It’s a long list, but it includes such names as R. Bhanu Pillai, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist who thought to scan her daughter’s back leading to the discovery of the tumor; and Christina McDaniel, R.N., who’s like a member of their family; and Hall’s parents, Guy and Jean Lookabill, who have given up retirement to take Kendall to all her weekly appointments.
Their attitudes also have helped. When she and her sister found out about their cancers, Hall said they decided not to take it as a death sentence. They learned to find the humor where they could and celebrated the small successes.
McDaniel, who has become close friends with Cindy, said she’s amazed at the likeness of mother and daughter. “They have faced so many trials and setbacks and still continued on with a determination like no other.  She never hesitated in her fight. She takes everything head on, and Kendall is just like her. We call Kendall Cindy’s mini-me and nothing could be more true. The bell is such a wonderful inspiration, just like the family that donated it.”
Though she wears a brace, Kendall raced around after the bell ringing enjoying cake, gifts and the announcement of a surprise trip to Disney World. When the family gets back, Kendall finally gets to go to school fulltime.
Hall, who holds a job as an office manager for a marine wholesale distributor, will be back to handling collections. She said she has little patience for people who give her their hardship cases. “I tell them, ‘Don’t go there with me.’ These are the cards that we were dealt. This is how we deal with them—one day at a time.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.