An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring Debbie Cherry, LPN [ St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee ]
A nurse who performed as an extraordinary healer for me during and after my cancer treatment became my best friend at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Debbie Cherry was there for me during one of the hardest times of my life, and cared for me in ways that made me feel like family. Since my treatment in the early 2000s, she has become a part of the After Completion of Therapy (ACT) clinic. I see her every time I return to St. Jude for my posttreatment checkups. It is always great to come back because it reminds me of how far I’ve come, and I know that Debbie was a great help for me during that time.
I was first brought to St. Jude at age 12 in 2001. At the time, I was anxious and afraid as I was going through registration. When the assessment and triage nurse came to the registration desk to escort me to the triage clinic, she could see the look on my face. That nurse was Debbie Cherry, and she immediately gave me a hug and let me know that everything was going to be fine.
It was undeniably one of the scariest times of my life, but Debbie helped ease that feeling through her kindness and the love for me and her other patients. She called me “her girl” and “her boo,” and brought me into her family like I was one of her own. It is impossible to exaggerate how important it is for a child going through a challenging treatment process to feel loved and appreciated. Debbie shows compassion throughout her daily routine and went above and beyond that for me.
Debbie was a best friend during my treatment. She talked to me and discussed things that were going on in my life and hers, and she took a genuine interest in me. It is difficult for me to remember the things we talked about, but I have a strong memory about the way I felt after the conversations. After chatting with her, I always felt better about myself and the treatment I was going through, that I was going to beat my cancer. Our exchanges were a therapy for me and impacted me emotionally, uplifting my spirit.
More than a best friend who would address my social needs, Debbie was also like a mother for me during my treatment. She would comfort me emotionally and would bring me things that reminded her of me. It was a personal calling for her to reach out to me and provide for me in ways that other nurses did not. It was a blessing for me to have a figure like Debbie to help me through the treatment process. In troubling times during my treatment, she not only reassured me, but helped to calm my mother and father and explain procedures to them.
Debbie has transitioned into the ACT Unit, and I make sure to see her every year when I come back to St. Jude for health screenings and general checkups that monitor for late effects of cancer therapies and to track my health. Through these visits, I get a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for how far I’ve come. But most importantly, I get to visit Debbie and talk with her again. She is always excited to see me, and the same enthusiasm extends to my entire family. She has made every one of us a part of her family and always has time for each of us. It’s incredible how much compassion and love she puts into her work, even nearly 10 years after I was a patient at St. Jude.
It was a blessing to have Debbie care for me when I was a patient at St. Jude, but that blessing has carried on with me into adulthood. When I return each year, Debbie enjoys when my sister and my parents accompany me. We talk about how exciting it will be when I have children of my own so that she can share the same bond with them. Her compassion and care went beyond my immediate care at the hospital and extended into my life and personal well-being. It is amazing what the extra time and caring can do for a child’s treatment, and it is even more remarkable now the impact that Debbie has had on my life even after my care at St. Jude.