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Laurie Chester pulls the rope on the bell she donated to the Charles L. and Rose Sweeney Melenyzer Pavilion and Regional Cancer Center Mon-Vale Radiation Oncology at Monongahela Valley Hospital. With Chester are Debbie Burkhardt, director of radiation oncology, left, and Marcie Moessner, radiation therapist. Artwork created at a paintand-sip fundraiser to help purchase the bell hangs on the wall.
Cancer patients are giving ringing endorsements to Monongahela Valley Hospital for the care they are receiving, thanks, in part, to Laurie Chester of Monessen, a two-time breast cancer survivor.
Chester recently donated two plaque-mounted bells, which hang in the Charles L. and Rose Sweeney Melenyzer Pavilion and Regional Cancer Center's Mon-Vale Radiation Oncology and Mon-Vale Oncology suites. Patients ring the bells to celebrate the completion of their cancer treatment.
"I wanted to donate something that I felt would encourage and inspire hope in all of the MVH cancer patients," Chester said. "I had seen where other hospitals had bells, and I just thought that was something. It's scary when you finish treatment, when you no longer feel like you're actively doing something to stop the growth. When it's all done, you're happy, but you're afraid."
"Everyone I met – from diagnosis to treatment completion and beyond – carried me through my journey and helped me to maintain a level of comfort beyond explanation . . . They held my hand and cried with me when I was most afraid, and made me feel as if I was their only patient. Everyone became an extension of my family. I feel so blessed."
Chester said she was "a little bit concerned" about placing a bell in medical oncology because "some people don't get to complete treatment."
"I've been through so much, yet I'm so fortuante in so many ways," she said. "There are always so many people. It's amazing so many people have to deal with it."
Chester, who will turn 50 years old on March 1, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 when she had her baseline mammogram. She underwent three surgical procedures – one per week until the cancer was gone – followed by 6 1/2 weeks of daily radiation treatments. She was then placed on daily oral medications to eliminate further growth.
"It's so weird. The day I found out, I had to go to the funeral home for a close friend who died of cancer," Chester said. "It was so difficult. It's very scary anytime you hear that word."
Plus, Chester had no idea if she has a family history of breast cancer because she was adopted. That's one of the reasons her initial treatment was so radical.
"They wanted to remove it and do a biopsy because of the fact I didn't have family history and no other scans to compare," she said. "It's a good thing. The mammogram was showing microcalcifications, but the biopsy came back malignant."
Chester remained in remission for seven years. Then, she was diagnosed again with breast cancer. This time, Chester opted for a masectomy.
"My first thing was my son. He's going to be 21 next. My mom died of colon cancer when I was 17," Chester said. "I thought, 'What if I'm not going to be here anymore for him?' When I had the masectomy, it was my son's senior year. My mom died my senior year. He didn't want to lose me like I lost my mom."
Despite experiencing respiratory failure during the procedure – and waking up with a breathing tube in intensive care – Chester pulled through. She now receives monthly injections to prevent a recurrence.
Chester's biggest supporters throughout her cancer journey have been her husband, Todd, her son, Zach, and the staff at Monongahela Valley Hospital, where Chester has worked since 1987. She is a human resources assistant.
"Everyone I met – from diagnosis to treatment completion and beyond – carried me through my journey and helped me to maintain a level of comfort beyond explanation," Chester said. "They held my hand and cried with me when I was most afraid, and made me feel as if I was their only patient. Everyone became an extension of my family. I feel so blessed."
Money for the bells was raised through a sold-out paint-and-sip event hosted by Chester, with assistance from the many friends she has made during her treatment. She and her husband are planning a golf outing in the spring to raise money for supplemental transportation for MVH cancer patients who have no other means of transportation for their treatments.
"When I go for injections, you see so much," Chester said. "Not everybody has family to get them to and from treatment. … but people need these treatments."
This story, which ran on February 9, 2016 in the Observer-Reporter, has been shared courtesy of Observer Publishing Company.