Breaking the Cancer Silence

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Topics include: Living Well and Patient Stories

Does culture play a part in how we cope with cancer?  Cherry Sloane-Medrano, a nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and herself, a cancer survivor, addresses this very important question.  From support and barriers to myths and stigmas, Cherry discusses how education is the key to ending the silence and starting a culture of awareness.  Listen as Cherry identifies areas of support in education, finances, psychology, emotions, and spiritual beliefs.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Andrew Schorr:  

Hello and welcome to Patient Power. I’m Andrew Schorr. Talking about cancer can be difficult. But sometimes cultural challenges can make the conversation even harder. Nurse and Case Manager Cherry Sloan-Medrano, (pronounced Med-Rahno) works to encourage Asian Americans—and others—to begin a dialogue so that they can get the best care. Cherry joins us to offer her advice and to share the lessons she learned from her own cancer journey.

Cherry Sloan-Medrano:

Hi, I’m Cherry Sloan-Medrano, and I’m a registered nurse at MD Anderson Physicians Network, and I’ve worked here for almost 17 years as a case manager. 

So that’s my role.  I’m the advocate.  I’m the case manager.  I transition them.  I do resources for them, and I’m basically their other person that would understand how they feel, what they’re going through, because I am a cancer survivor myself.  

And I know that I have a mission.  I have something to accomplish.  And I know that my passion is my mission.  That is cancer education, helping the cancer survivors and caregivers and make sure that they’re supported, either emotionally, educationally, financially, psychologically, spiritually, whatever I can do to help them out.

The big barrier that I find out besides that from the other cultures to other ethnic groups, talking about my culture, we are so sensitive about what people think about.  When I say we, I’m including myself because I belong to the community.

Sensitive about what people might think if we tell them about our diseases, particularly cancer.  There’s still a stigma.  In my country, somebody will be dying and they said oh, it’s a voodoo, or somebody look at her ugly and then he just died. Even though they might know cancer is the cause, they’re not going to say anything about it.  There’s a silence of cancer.  They’re so scared that if they talk about cancer, it might also affect them.  They’re so scared.  There’s a lot of myth about cancer, like maybe it’s contagious.  Maybe it’s hereditary all the way through. 

Or maybe if you stay around with a patient, you might also get it by osmosis.  I don’t know.  But this stems from lack of knowledge.  I would say ignorance.  

And that’s my goal is really to help in educating them to erase the myth in their heads that it’s contagious; that when you get diagnosed it’s a death sentence, you’re going to die.  So when my patients ask me, “Am I going to die, Cherry?”  I said, “Yeah, you’re going to die.  I’m doing to die.  Everybody’s going to die.”  They said, “That’s not the question that I want you to answer.”  I said, “What’s the question?”  “Like, am I supposed to die like today or three months from now, like the doctor said?”  

I said, “I’m not going to second-guess a doctor, but I have to tell you that not the doctor, not you or I could determine when you’re going to die.  Somebody up there will determine when you’re going to be going home.  So just live your life, live in the present; enjoy your life.  So don’t even think about that.  Do what the doctor tells you to do, of course, and use your reason, of course.  And just enjoy it because it’s going to be a rough ride maybe for some, but that’s the way it is.”  So my culture, they just don’t want to talk about it.

Everybody should be open, and everybody should talk about it, and everybody should be informed.  Everybody should know what is cancer, how you prevent cancer, what are your risks, how to lower your risks, and how to address it when you are diagnosed. 

What is your diagnosis, and how you can also inform your family so the future generations they might be able to be aware of what’s there in their genes if it’s one of those hereditary cancers that they say it is? Although only 10 percent of cancer is hereditary.  But a lot of people think it’s more than that.  So I want to get that myth out of their heads, and I want to educate, educate and educate.   People not talking about cancer, being silent about it will actually really impact their disease, their longevity, their prognosis 

As soon as you know, or you don’t know about your prognosis or diagnosis, you want to verify it to be definitive, then call somebody that would be able to drive you where you can get a definitive diagnosis, where you can have definitive treatment plan, and your prognosis will be better.  But you catch it early.  Not that cancer spreads overnight.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about if you address the issue, early detection is the key. 

My advice actually is for as people, Asian Americans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, even Hispanics, even black citizens or even white Caucasian citizens, to be open about cancer.  Educate ourselves.  And if you can join a support group if you have cancer, that’s wonderful.  If you can ask your caregivers to join the support groups, that’s wonderful.  MD Anderson and other cancer centers, I know they have all kinds of support groups for different sites of cancer. 

They also have caregiver support.  They have support for early adolescents and children.  And join those.  It’s important that we are out there and letting them know our cancer journey that we’re not unique, we’re not different.  We are very similar to others’ experiences. And by sharing, we can alleviate some of our fears and anxieties. And we can share what we have, and we don’t feel all alone.  We feel that we have a commonality, and we can support each other. 

Not just here in Houston is my goal, like MD Anderson is to spread out the news about cancer and prevention and education and treatment and how you take care of yourself.  I want it global.  So that’s my dream.  So I have a dream.  But I don’t know if it’s going to be fulfilled, but I can just dream. 

Andrew Schorr:                   

Thank you to Cherry for sharing her valuable insights. Be sure to sign up for the Patient Power community so that you can stay informed as we post interviews with powerful experts like Cherry. I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all!

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on April 13, 2016