The ringing of a gong symbolizes the restoration of balance, harmony and life energy. For children in the Cardon Children’s Medical Center cancer unit, it symbolizes that and more—it brings new hope at the end of a long round of inpatient chemotherapy.
The gong was a gift from the Shores Family to honor their son, Spencer. The Ahwatukee elementary school student was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma—a tumor in the soft tissue above his eye—in July 2008. He rang his gong at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after enduring 25 rounds of proton radiation. The gong seemed like such a fitting tradition that Mike and April Shores, his parents, and their extended family, donated a gong to Banner Desert Medical Center when Spencer returned to finish his chemotherapy in February 2009. Once Cardon Children’s opened, the gong was moved to the cancer care unit.
“To us, the gong means new life, energy and focus,” says April Shores. “It also signifies the ending of a phase of treatment. When kids are diagnosed and have to follow this path, knowing that there’s something to look forward to is very special—it’s something to embrace and celebrate.”
After finishing his first round of chemotherapy, Spencer did well and made it just 17 days shy of a year before it was determined that the cancer had returned. After travelling to Sloan Kettering in New York City for an occipital exenteration—the removal of his eye—he returned to Cardon Children’s to complete chemotherapy. There, he rang a gong for the third time in December 2010.
“One of the first things he asked me when we told him the cancer had returned was whether he’d get to ring the gong again,” says April. “I told him he absolutely would. It was amazing how something like that could give him focus as he geared up to fight the cancer again.
Alison Bell, a family nurse practitioner on the cancer care unit, has seen how the children respond to the gong and how they respect the fact that it’s reserved for this special milestone.
“It becomes a kind of sacred rite,” she says. “And we make a real celebration of it. Family and friends are invited and our music therapist leads us in singing a special song. The other kids see this and it becomes an inspiration to them, as well.”
Today, Spencer is doing well and enjoying all the activities of a typical seven year-old—soccer, swimming, riding bikes. Ultimately, he’ll get a prosthetic eye and right now, he wants something dramatic like you might see in a Star Wars movie. Everyone hopes he will never have to ring the gong again—but the gong is there for all who need it, serving as a milestone at the end of a long road.