When staff at WCI Greece Radiation Oncology smelled smoke one day in January 2019, they called the Ridge Road Fire District to be safe. They didn’t know it would be the start of a friendship – and the beginning of a grand gesture of kindness involving many from near and far.
In a ceremony on July 29 to welcome the bell into the WCI Greece building, Nancy Marou, M.S., R.N., O.N.C., Clinical Manager in Radiation Oncology for Wilmot Cancer Institute at Highland, recalled that day back in 2019. After the firefighters thoroughly checked the building to be sure there wasn’t a fire, Battalion Chief Chris Mazzafero noticed they didn’t have a bell.
In fact, that was something Marou had wanted for their patients. Her work brings her to various UR Medicine Radiation Oncology facilities, including other sites that have bells. She knew the joy it could bring.
“The bell signifies the end of a tough journey and hopes of a better future, that often brings tears of joys for patients, their families and the staff, who many times become their adopted family during the course of treatment,” she says.
She told Mazzaferro the location would love to have a bell, but it would have to be donated. It’s not something you buy, she says. So Mazzaferro got to work. When he returned to the firehouse, he told Captain Brian Gebo the situation, and Gebo set up a time to meet with Marou.
“I think he warned me, I can’t remember,” he said with a laugh, “so I went and met my new friend, Nancy.”
This was the start of more than just a donation, but of a friendship. After hearing what Marou had to say, Gebo thought perhaps they could take a bell from an old fire truck, so they looked high and low, with no success.
Instead of giving up, he shifted from looking at the old to looking at the new. The department was building a new fire truck at the time with help from a colleague, Lieutenant Joe Muniz, who connected Gebo with John Alferi, the sales manager of Churchville Fire Equipment and the mayor of East Rochester.
When Muniz called, Alferi knew there had to be a way to help. Finding a bell was easy, he thought, but how would it hang? What would it be placed on? How could this work?
Then he remembered a bell he’d seen at Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton, Wisc. Each year, they hold a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb fundraiser at Lambeau Field in Green Bay to raise funds for fallen firefighters. Upon completion of the climb, participants ring a bell that features the Twin Towers and honors those firefighters lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
So, Alferi called Pierce Manufacturing and asked them to build another bell, just like the one they have. A friend at the company named Chip Miller embraced the project and got to work making the bell. They sent pictures of progress and once it was ready, sent it to the Rochester area on a truck already headed this way.
On July 29, Alferi, Gebo and others delivered the bell to WCI Greece Radiation Oncology.
“There were so many hands involved with this and not one person hesitated, whether at Appleton, Wisconsin, whether they were at Churchville,” he says. “It’s great pride that I have to be here today, to see it here in this place, because that’s where it belongs.”
The design features the Twin Towers and the numbers 343, for the number of firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Seeing it, you might wonder: what’s the connection between Sept. 11 and cancer patients?
Alferi says: Heroism in the face of immense struggle.
He explains, while 343 represents the number of firefighters who died, there are many more stories of heroism that day. While it was one of the darkest days for firefighters, there are many stories of firefighters who showed heroism, rushing in to help those in need.
He hopes this bell helps cancer patients embrace heroism, too.
“It’s a bell of victory,” he says. “It’s a happy event and it’s a proud event [honoring] the heroism that your patients have to get through this fight and the heroism that staff have to get them through this fight.”
Marou and faculty and staff from WCI Greece think it will help do just that. In the ceremony, they expressed gratitude, not only for the object itself but for so many people who came together, without hesitation, to make this object a possibility and to show support for cancer patients in their community.
“Fighting with cancer is not easy. It’s not easy for the patient. It’s not even easy for us, the health care providers. It takes a village,” says Bingren Liu, M.D., medical director of WCI Greece Radiation Oncology. “This really signifies the support from all our community, and our patients will really appreciate that. Thank you again.”