Spend a few minutes with Cherry Sloan-Medrano, and you’ll find yourself laughing. A little longer, and you’ll probably share your life story.
“People tell me I’m easy to talk to,” Sloan-Medrano says. “My husband always says I know everyone in the elevator, baggage claim at the airport, everywhere.”
That ability to relate easily to people allows her to fulfill her passion for sharing knowledge.
“I love to be an advocate for others by teaching them what I know,” Sloan-Medrano says.
She has shared her knowledge across the country as the founder of the Filipino Cancer Network of America – Metropolitan Houston (FCNA-MH) and as an MD Anderson Ambassador.
Sloan-Medrano chose nursing as her profession while growing up in the Philippines because she loves to take care of others. After graduating from nursing school and immigrating to the U.S., she became an operating room nurse in New Orleans.
When she saw patients experiencing anxiety and fear about their upcoming surgeries, her desire to educate kicked in. So she started a program to help patients learn what to expect.
“I knew if they were calmer about the surgery, it would help greatly with their recovery,” Sloan-Medrano explains.
She moved to Houston in 1996 and joined MD Anderson in 1999. Since then, she’s been a case manager for our Physicians Network, where she strives to be a resource for patients.
“I’m their advocate and use my knowledge to resolve their issues or point them in the right direction,” she says.
Finding her purpose
In 1997, Sloan-Medrano started a Life After Loss support group at her church through the American Cancer Society. Leading that group put her in contact with the ACS Houston Asian Cancer Council, and in 2007, its director approached her with a challenge.
“They asked me to establish a cancer network that would meet the needs of the Filipino community as I saw them,” she says.
That might seem like a daunting task to some, but Sloan-Medrano doesn’t fear failure.
“Failure is just another opportunity to learn and a stepping stone to success,” she says.
She gathered interested members from the Philippine Nurses Association of Metropolitan Houston, local physicians, media and other professionals to complete the required American Cancer Society training.
FCNA-MH was launched in 2008 to support cancer patients and caregivers and better their quality of life through education, patient navigation, networking and referral to community resources.
“I still meet Filipinos who have been diagnosed with cancer but don’t know much about their disease or cancer stage,” Sloan-Medrano says. “They’re scared because of myths and beliefs about cancer. They don’t want to think or speak about their disease. I’m trying to break the silence.”
Those conversations remind her there still is work to do.
Sloan-Medrano frequently speaks at conferences and other national and regional nursing conventions through her role as president and founder of FCNA-MH. She’s been asked by members of other ethnic groups, such as the Indian American Cancer Network, to help them create their own cancer networks. She’s now helping the National Association of Hispanic Nurses form a cancer network.
A personal cancer diagnosis
Just as the FCNA-MH was beginning, Sloan-Medrano received her own cancer diagnosis.
“I had been speaking about cancer for years, and I think God decided I really needed to know what I was talking about,” she says. “I accepted the challenge.”
Sloan-Medrano believed strongly in practicing what she preached about cancer screening and prevention. After seven years of monitoring nodules in her throat, she received an abnormal ultrasound. Because of her knowledge as an oncology nurse, she requested a biopsy. The pathology report was stage III papillary thyroid carcinoma.
Due to her age and cancer stage, one oncologist gave her five years to live.
“I told him, ‘I’m not a statistic, and I will beat that.’”
That was 2008. Her faith, love of life and desire to continue serving her community motivated her throughout treatment. She occasionally runs into this oncologist and teasingly tells him, “I’m a ghost!”
Never slowing down
Sloan-Medrano believes, “I’ve been blessed to know my path in life and given a gift to follow it.”
She knows her cancer may one day recur and she may not beat it again. But she doesn’t fear it.
“I have accepted it. But I visualize myself living a very productive life, living a legacy of hope, love and faith in God and family,” Sloan-Medrano says.
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s bimonthly employee publication.