He rang the JRMC Cancer Center bell, knowing he’ll celebrate sometime soon.

“We’ll make up for it,” said Bill Beals, New Rockford, N.D. “We need to stay positive.”

Beals graduated from the cancer center at Jamestown Regional Medical Center Monday after 18 months of treatment. Doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer in 2018. His family has supported him since the beginning, checking in, lending hands. Because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, however, they couldn’t attend the graduation.

Instead, Beals celebrated with his medical team at the JRMC Cancer Center.

“Guys, I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “I wasn’t kidding about the golf. We have to go together sometime.”

Though social distancing guidelines kept them from attending the graduation, Beals’ three grown children kept in touch through phone calls, texting and Facebook Portal.

“We’ll celebrate soon enough,” Beals said.

Once the bell ringing is complete, Beals said he’ll return to work as the office deputy at the Eddy County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s not like I’m going to be partying like a rock star,” he said, laughing from behind a surgical mask.

However, that day may come. Once the pandemic is over, he hopes to take a trip to Las Vegas with his family.

“Let’s get past this pandemic. Then, we’ll make the most of it and have some fun,” he said.

A blessing in disguise

While a cancer diagnosis is rarely good news, for Beals, the timing probably saved his life.

The victim of a work-related accident, Beals manages his chronic pain with a pain pump. When the pump wasn’t working, he asked his doctor if he could try something new. To do that required a chest x-ray.

That x-ray revealed Beals needed medical attention. Doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer on December 30, 2018.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t feel sick,’” he recalled. “I didn’t want to believe it at first.”

Doctors recommended radiation and 24 rounds of chemotherapy. At the time, Beals needed to travel to Fargo for that care.

“The JRMC Cancer Center was a life-saver,” he said. “When you have chronic back pain, driving 200 miles in the car is a lot.”

Beals’ attitude to cancer is a lot like his attitude to the pandemic interrupting his party – stay positive.

“Attitude is the biggest part of this thing,” he said. “I knew I was going to beat cancer. I always believed. Plus, everybody here is great. You couldn’t ask for better.”

In addition to clinical care, Beals made and re-acquainted with friends.

Like Beals, Oncologist Dr. Shelby Terstriep is also originally from New Rockford.

“’Graduation day’ from chemo is always an awesome milestone,” Dr. Terstriep said. “Our staff get almost as excited as the person ringing the bell because with regular infusions, we get to know them so well. With hope, that makes not being able to have family present because of the pandemic a little bit easier for Bill and others.”

Her dad and Beals are good friends and Beals even catered her wedding.

“Being able to take care of people close to home has been a real highlight for me,” she said.

In addition to his oncologist, Beals said he looks forward to seeing registered nurses, K.C. Robison and Garret Hillius, in a social setting one day.

“Stories like Bill’s help drive a cancer nurse do what we do. All patients experience adversity during treatment. Bill never let that adversity get him down. From his first treatment here at JRMC, he knew he was going to ring that bell. Every time he walked through the front door, you knew he was in a good, positive mood. His personality and sense of humor made our days better. Our patients thank us for what we do for them, but an important thing that I think gets missed is that it’s people like Bill and many of our other patients that help us be the best nurses we can be. The way they view life and carry themselves in some of the toughest times is truly something to live by. It’s really exciting to see Bill finish his cancer treatment. Although we’ll miss him, we’re excited for him to move on and we wish him the best,” Hillius said.

Beals said he appreciates the support of his medical team, his family and even his colleagues in Eddy County. Even though he needed six weeks off for treatment in Fargo, Beals said his colleagues donated enough paid time off that he never missed a paycheck.

“You don’t want to be by yourself in this,” he said. “I’m very fortunate.”

Jamestown Regional Medical Center, in partnership with Sanford Health, opened the JRMC Cancer Center in 2019. The JRMC Cancer Center serves 100 people from Sanford and other healthcare organizations in the Jamestown area each month, saving more than 160,000 miles of travel each year.