Six-year-old Eliana Feliciano was diagnosed with cancer last year on Christmas Day. On Thursday, after finishing her year-long treatment, she was the first patient to ring the new survivor bell at Rady Children’s Hospital. The bell gives children who complete their cancer treatment a way to celebrate the achievement in a poignant way.

The bell dedication ceremony was held outside the hospital’s Acute Care Pavilion. Hospital staff, the families of children with cancer, along with donors and the founders of the Emilio Nares Foundation, gathered for the event. Eliana, who wore a blue shirt with bold letters that read: “Always be brave,” was held by her father, Edgar Feliciano of Chula Vista, as she rang the bell vigorously.

The nonprofit Nares foundation donated the bell to the hospital’s Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, an inpatient oncology unit where patients stay for days, weeks and months at a time. Eliana was one of those patients. She was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of soft tissue such as muscle, connective tissue such as tendon or cartilage, or bone. She finished her last treatment in October and gets to celebrate Christmas with her family at home this year.

She said she’s excited about going to Disney World and opening presents at home.

“Today is a monumental milestone for not only us but the parents and children,” said Richard Nares, co-founder of the foundation. “The cancer journey can vary from two to five years, so it’s important that we mark the end of their treatment with a huge celebration.”

Nares said having a permanent survivor bell installed follows a tradition at children’s hospitals across the country.

Each time prior to a survivor ringing the bell, a poem is read:
“Ring this bell
Three times well
It’s toll to clearly say
My treatment’s done
This course is done
I am on my way.”

Nares and his wife Diane created the foundation in 2003 after losing their son, Emilio, to cancer. The nonprofit has a main mission to provide transportation to patients at Rady Children’s so that no child misses cancer treatment due to lack of transportation.

“As Emilio’s mom, I truly know the roller-coaster ride that is cancer treatment for these children,” Diane Nares said. “ It changes everyday. It’s filled with hope and it’s filled with so many ups and downs…it’s a monumental time in their lives.”

Eliana’s father said he’s looking forward to his daughter being pain free. “We’re just thankful for the support we’ve received from the Nares foundation and the care from the excellent nurses and doctors for their compassion toward these children,” Edgar Feliciano said. “It’s great to see her be a child again.

UNION TRIBUNE – December 22, 2016 – by Allison Sampite-Montecalvo