Lucky. Grateful. Hopeful. Those are the words that Judy Martin had engraved on the bell she bought for the Royal Victoria Hospital’s chemotherapy department in 2013.

The Bell Comfort Kits

Cedars volunteers assembling “Comfort Kits”

After being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2012, Judy underwent surgery and 455 days of treatment. During that time, she was struck by the fact nobody did anything to celebrate the end of their treatment. Inspired by a tradition at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, she decided to buy a ship’s bell for patients to ring when they completed their final round of chemotherapy or radiation. As for her inspiration for the engraving, she explains: “I felt lucky, because I had discovered my lump early and was able to do something about it; grateful, for everything everyone did for me during my journey; and hopeful that my cancer will never return.”

The contents of a “Comfort Kit”

The contents of a “Comfort Kit”

Judy was the first patient to ring the bell, on September 4, 2013, and the tradition is still very much alive. “When a patient rings the bell, it’s a very moving moment for patients, families and healthcare workers. It marks the end of a difficult adventure that they shared,” says Judy.

Judy went on to launch “The Bell” Fund on February 4, 2016 – World Cancer Day – in collaboration with the Cedars Cancer Foundation (Cedars). Her goal was to raise $1 million, so that she could provide a “comfort kit” to every newly diagnosed MUHC cancer patient, to help make their cancer journey just a little bit more comfortable. Each “comfort kit” contains a fleece blanket, a reusable water bottle, a notepad and pen, a pack of mints, a magazine, and an adult colouring book with pencils. Every kit is accompanied by a hand-drawn card with an encouraging message inside, which is provided by students and community groups. The kits are assembled and delivered to patients by a team of Cedars CanSupport volunteers.

To date, “The Bell” Fund has provided over 10,000 comfort kits to adult cancer patients and 1,000 blankets to young cancer patients who are hospitalized on Sarah’s Floor of The Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Trio de l’île

The Trio de l’île: pianist Patil Harboyan, cellist Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy, and violinist Uliana Drugova

“It takes a team to keep the program going, and we couldn’t do it without our volunteers, sponsors and donors,” says Judy. “We also couldn’t do it without the Symphony for “The Bell” event, which raises crucial funds to help improve the patient experience at the Cedars Cancer Centre,” she adds.

Inaugurated in 2017, the Symphony for “The Bell” is a classical music concert hosted by Cedars in partnership with the I Medici di McGill (“Physicians of McGill”) Orchestra, which is made up of talented McGill physicians and medical students. This year, Cedars has also partnered with the award-winning Trio de l’île, comprised of violinist Uliana Drugova, cellist Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy, and pianist Patil Harboyan.

I Medici de McGill performing at the 2019 edition of the Symphony for “The Bell”

Patil Harboyan has a special relationship with Cedars: she is the founder of the “Cedars Healing Notes” program, which organizes a music concert every Tuesday at noon at the Cedars Cancer Centre. The featured musicians are either students or professors from McGill’s Schulich School of Music, where Harboyan herself teaches. Most often, the piano is at the heart of the concerts, but there are also duos, trios and quartets showcasing a variety of stringed and wind instruments, and even the occasional guitar soloist. “Music is truly healing. It helps people relax and provides a temporary escape from the stresses they’re going through. It can evoke all sorts of great memories and feelings. It has even been shown to reduce anxiety and blood pressure,” explains Patil. “I’m happy to know that we’re helping patients find moments of peace and happiness while undergoing their treatments.” The concerts are popular with hospital staff, too. “Regardless of who’s playing and what instruments are being played, the effect is the same: the feeling in the room is completely transformed,” says Jeff Shamie, President and CEO of Cedars. “It’s magical. People start smiling, staff members and hospital visitors come over to listen, and everyone gets to forget their disease and their troubles for a little while.”

The 2024 edition of the Symphony for “The Bell” will take place on Sunday, May 12, at 4:00 p.m., at the magnificent Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, in downtown Montréal. It will feature works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Edward Elgar, Jean Sibelius, Frederick Delius, and Edward Benjamin Britten.

Healing Notes

A patient gets as close as possible to enjoy the Healing Notes experience.

All proceeds from the event will go to “The Bell” Fund, to the “Cedars Healing Notes” Fund, and to Cedars CanSupport’s Humanitarian Fund.

Cedars CanSupport, the humanitarian arm of the Cedars Cancer Foundation, provides complementary support to improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Through its Humanitarian Fund, Cedars is able to assist families in financial need by covering the cost of things like homecare equipment rental, transportation to and from hospital visits, parkig fees, homecare, childcare, and even food.

Judy Martin sums it up best: “If you come to the concert, you’ll not only get to hear beautiful music, you’ll also be contributing to programs that have a direct impact on patients and that make their cancer journey more comfortable and less stressful.”

The Symphony for “The Bell” will take place on Sunday, May 12, at 4:00 p.m., at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul (3415 Redpath Street, Montréal).
Tickets cost:
Patrons:    $100 (includes a post-concert tea party)
General:    $40
Students:  $20 (with ID).
To buy your tickets or to make a donation, contact Shoshana Nuez at 514-656-6662 ext. 230 /  [email protected].