Bell ringing just in time for the holidays as breast cancer survivor urges others to get screened

December 14, 2021
Gladys Cano celebrates the end of treatment with family and friends.
Gladys Cano celebrates the end of treatment with family and friends at home (bottom middle) and in the lobby at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center (second from right). Photos provided


Gladys Cano, 55, remembers Oct. 13 vividly. She reached up, grabbed hold of the rope and rang the bell inside MUSC Hollings Cancer Center's infusion suite as loudly as she could. She had a lot to celebrate – she had just completed four months of treatment for breast cancer.

“When I finally got to ring the bell, so many things were racing through my mind. I was very thankful for my life and for more time with friends and family,” Cano said. “Your perspective changes after a cancer diagnosis. Now I want to dedicate my life to helping other people in need.”

Two months removed from treatment, Cano is looking forward to spending the holidays with her husband of 33 years and her two children. A Bolivian native, Cano is used to giving back to others, working as a site coordinator for Abrazos, a Charleston County School District program for Spanish-speaking families. She credits her annual mammogram this year for catching her breast cancer so early.

“I know some women are afraid of mammograms, but you have to do it. You never know what is going to happen or what the doctors may find. That annual screening was the only reason my cancer was diagnosed so early.”

The diagnosis came in June. Cano underwent a lumpectomy and 23 rounds of radiation at Hollings before proudly ringing the bell in October. Despite having seen her husband battle leukemia two years prior, Cano said she never could have been fully prepared to fight the disease herself.

“There were definitely hard days during my treatment. Some days I was sad and crying by myself. I was afraid. But at the same time, I wanted to continue with the treatments because I wanted to live.”

That will to live and spend more time with family and friends powered her through those hard times. She said she was blown away by the support she received at Hollings from the moment she was diagnosed. She said breast oncologist Rodney Williams, M.D., and radiation oncologist Jennifer Harper, M.D., both made sure to leave no stone unturned during her care and answered any questions she may have.

“The doctors, nurses and staff at Hollings are amazing. They’re not only professional, but they’re also very compassionate to patients battling this disease. For me, that was just as important as the care itself.”

Harper said caring for patients goes beyond just the medical aspect. She also said it is important to celebrate with patients when they complete their treatments and ring the bell.

“Watching our patients complete their courses of treatment gives me joy. Joy in the patients’ accomplishments and joy as they celebrate this milestone in their personal journeys with cancer,” Harper said.

Cano said she has a lot to look forward to after battling cancer. She and her husband have a dream of getting an RV and traveling to all 50 states. With a new lease on life, Cano said she will appreciate everything along that journey a lot more.

“I feel lucky. I am thankful to have Hollings so close, and I am grateful to have a new shot at life to do the things I love with the people I love.”