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8-year-old patient marks end of radiation treatment with empowering gong ceremony

Posted at 4:28 PM, Aug 04, 2018

A girl fighting cancer received a sweet send-off by striking a gong to end her radiation treatment.

Kaylee Kruise, 8, is one of many patients who's swung the large mallet in the Radiation Oncology Department at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to celebrate the end of treatment.

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Last year, Kaylee was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor. Her radiation treatment ended recently, but she will return to the hospital for chemotherapy.

"She got to watch other kids hit the gong and would think to herself, 'I'm just a few weeks away from mine,'" Kaylee's mom, Melissa Kruise, shared with "GMA."

"The entire hospital staff said she was such a joy to have around," she added. "She lit up the room."

It was a long, challenging journey for Kaylee and her family leading up to the end of her radiation treatment.

"As a mom, you try to keep yourself strong so you can be the best support you can be for your daughter," Kruise said. "She was kind of scared. I told her before she went into surgery, 'Are you OK?' and she responded, 'No, I just want this bad stuff out of my head.'"

Kaylee’s loved ones felt she was so brave throughout the entire process leading up to her gong ceremony.

Like many other children's hospitals, UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has a chemo bell for patients to ring after they've completed chemotherapy.

"We thought a gong ceremony would be a unique way to let patients in the Radiation Oncology Department celebrate their radiation treatment too," UPMC's Child Life Specialist, Erika Parsons, told "GMA."

"Each strike of the gong is symbolic of the patient's treatment journey," Parsons said. "They can strike once for everything they have endured during their treatment. They strike again for their last day and what it means to them, and they can strike a third time for everything they're hoping for."

Some patients share what the experience means to them after ringing the gong, and some have even told the hospital staff they're sad to leave because they really enjoyed their time there.

Kaylee's family, friends, and doctor cheered and applauded when the day finally came for her to strike the gong. She felt ecstatic about being able to ring in this major milestone in her life with the people who have been instrumental in her journey.

"My doctor was there, and we even did the floss together!" Kaylee said.

The celebration didn't end there: the hospital staff surprised Kaylee with presents like a gift card to Build-A-Bear and a Girl Scouts Cookie Oven, because she likes to bake.

This was much more than just the striking of the gong to Kaylee's mother, who drove more than two hours every week to the hospital to stay with her.

"It brought tears to my eyes," Kruise said. "It was like the symbolization of the end of that journey."

"I think her final week in the Radiation Oncology Department changed her life," Kruise said. "She's not the same little girl she was before. She's definitely stronger, and she and I will always have a connection because of this."