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It was music to his ears.
Sure, that old bell outside Neligh-Oakdale has seen better days, but that clanging never sounded sweeter than it did Friday when it rang to signify Nate Metschke as cancer free.
It was just days earlier the band teacher heard those words from his doctor, but it really hadn’t sunk in until he stepped in front of his school, in front of hundreds of students and rang the coveted victory bell.
Metschke rang the bell at the Carson Cancer Center after his final chemo treatment, but uncertainty remained since his scans weren’t back. But this time, he knew it was over.
“It wasn’t until I rang that bell that it felt real. This time, it felt like I was ringing the victory bell,” Metschke said.
Metschke was diagnosed with colon cancer last February. He had surgery to remove his sigmoid colon and all of the lymph nodes around it just one week after the birth of their third child, Ansley.
He was shocked, scared and ready to fight. He faced his disease with the same intensity he demands from his students, and he battled colon cancer publicly.
The 1997 Chambers High School graduate announced his cancer through the Antelope County News in hopes it would lead to others seeking medical assistance for their symptoms.
He wore his chemo bag during class, rather than hiding it away on the weekends. Students watched him battle the same disease that will kill 50,260 people this year alone.
So on Friday, it was fitting that hundreds of students surrounded Metschke, his wife Darcy and oldest daughter Madison as he rang the victory bell in honor of being cancer free.
“I thought I was really close with my students before I had colon cancer. But now I realize how close I am with them,” he said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see the caring and concern from them.”
The moment came at the end of Friday’s fall activities pep rally when he was supposed to lead the band in “Tomahawk.” Instead, Athletic Director Ron Beacom pulled off an unthinkable surprise and announced Metschke would ring the bell.
Beacom said although there will be plenty of victories for the Warriors this year, none are greater than Metschke’s battle over colon cancer.
“Our Warrior family, if you will, already got the biggest victory it’s going to get this year,” Beacom said. “He was bound and determined to fight it and we were bound and determined we were going to help him. Here we are six months, surgeries later and 12 chemo treats later. On Wednesday, Mr. Metschke got a phone call from his doctor telling him that he’s cancer free.”
Handshakes and pats on the back followed as Metschke walked outside where he proudly rang the victory bell, still speechless by the support of the school.
The support would ring further than the sound of the bell as thousands of people watched the video online. To date, more than 35,000 people have viewed the moment Metschke will never forget.
“I know a lot of people, but I don’t know that many people,” Metschke said with a laugh. “I mean, wow. I just hope it helps people. If you have blood in your stool, get to the doctor. Don’t wait because I almost waited too long.”
Metschke said hearing Beacom’s words shook him deeply. Not only was he speechless, but he could barely move. His arms stiffened. He started sweating. He was in pure disbelief as he listened to Beacom.
“He always has the right words to say. It doesn’t matter if he’s coaching a game or in math class,” Metschke said of his friend and colleague. “He always has the right words to say, and I really think a lot of him and respect him a lot. What he did, really meant a lot to me.”
The video shows Metschke’s shock. It also shows his daughter running to him, arms open with a hug proving just how magical the moment was and how difficult the battle has been for the family.
Madison and Benson had a chemo countdown, but they didn’t really know how much of a fight their daddy was going through. The shirts said to “Fight Like A Warrior,” and he had a battle on his hands.
“I tried not to talk too much about it at home because I didn’t want to scare my kids. I know they know the word chemo and we had the countdown at home, but I truly hope they don’t really understand everything,” he said.
Although he’s now cancer free, Metschke’s journey isn’t over. He goes back to the doctor for his first post-cancer meeting this week to learn what’s next for him.
Regardless of that visit, Metschke said it’s time “to pay it forward now, help somebody else.” How exactly, Metschke isn’t sure.
Whatever it is, it will likely be memorable in not only name but also effects. Metschke said it will make a difference in the community.
“I want to do some kind of yearly awareness thing,” he said. “I want to do something to pay it forward, to get more people in for colonoscopies. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m going to do something to help people.”