Local cancer survivors come together for bell choir performance through Shawnee Mission Health

Cancer survivors who were treated at Shawnee Mission Health performed a bell choir concert as a tribute to their triumph against cancer. Photo courtesy of Shawnee Mission Health

Each time Marie Jewett completed a round of chemotherapy, she rang the bell hung up on the wall outside of the treatment room.

And each ring of that bell at Shawnee Mission Medical Center sounded like triumph to her, especially because the past year had been one of the hardest of her life.

Jewett found out in May 2017 that she had stage 0 breast cancer; after her lumpectomy, her doctors realized she had adenocarcinoma, an aggressive and invasive form of stage 2 breast cancer. One bilateral mastectomy, one reconstructive surgery and multiple rounds of chemotherapy later, Jewett had gotten rid of the last of the cancer. Ring ring ring!

Her latest scan in September of this year shows that she remains cancer-free. She credits the hospital staff for her success. But she also kept her mind and body as active as possible with exercise and the support of her coworkers.

“I had support galore, and that means the world when you’re going through cancer,” Jewett said. “I had a lot of people who were loving on me, and that helps so much.”

There are dozens and dozens of success stories like Jewett’s all across the country. AdventHealth, the national health system under which Shawnee Mission Health will soon be rebranded, wanted to pay tribute this holiday season to Jewett and 17 other cancer survivors for their great triumph.

And so, AdventHealth taught them to play the handbells and perform “Silent Night” at a concert.

‘Amazing to see how it all came together’

Marie Jewett, a breast cancer survivor, played the handbells with 17 other survivors. Photo courtesy of Shawnee Mission Health

The bell choir idea came from Mindy Adams with 22 Squared Productions, which filmed the concert in October and debuted the film in an advertisement released Dec. 3.

“Two years ago, she (Adams) came up with the idea of correlating ringing the bells when cancer patients end their radiation treatment to ringing the bells at Christmas time — a new beginning and the start of the advent season,” Jewett said.

All 18 handbell choir participants had successfully defeated all types of cancer — breast cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma. Two survivors were only 12 and 13 years old. But all of them had been treated at various AdventHealth facilities.

Jewett, who is also a nurse at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, said the experience “has been probably one of the top moments of my life.” Even though some of the bell choir members had no musical background, Richard Hickam, the director, taught them in two days to play “Silent Night.”

Hardly any of them knew each other, but their shared experience of cancer treatment, the bell choir and the chance to tell their story created an instant bond, Jewett said.

“To see us come from the beginning stages of nobody even knowing what a note is and no one had ever rung a handbell before to playing a song and performing it in front of an audience, and being filmed throughout the whole experience, it was incredible,” she said.

Jewett and her family, and another local bell choir participant, Dawn Wheeler, and her family, enjoyed the film in a private viewing before Shawnee Mission Health’s annual Joy to the World Christmas concert on Nov. 29.

“It’s amazing to see how it all come together — from the start of 18 people who had never played handbells together to this beautiful commercial that told our story of survival was wonderful,” Jewett said. “It has just been a tremendous blessing to be a part of this entire project.”