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Cancer Survivor to Graduate From Morrisville State College at Age 50

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—The pink-colored ribbon Cheryl Hernandez wears on her clothing bears great significance.

The fabric loop, a national symbol of breast cancer awareness, represents the many paths her life has taken and tells a powerful story.

Hernandez is a three-year breast cancer survivor.

Her battle with cancer has given her a new outlook on life, giving her strength to persevere and reach for her dreams.

On May 20, she will realize one of those dreams—graduating from Morrisville State College—at age 50. Hernandez will receive an associate degree in accounting during the college’s 95th commencement ceremony which will be held at 1 p.m. on Drake Field.

Tenacity has been a driving force in the life of the Norwich resident and Vietnam veteran who decided to return to college at age 48.

“I always wanted a college degree,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to be the first one in my immediate family to get one and I wanted to show my two sons that it’s never too late to go after something if you really want it.”

The oldest of eight siblings, Hernandez learned at an early age to go after what she wanted in life. She joined the Army shortly after high school, serving nine years before being honorably discharged, then worked in the medical field for the next 20 years.

Her life changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in May of 2002.

“I was shocked and my world flashed before me,” Hernandez said. “I still see the patients’ treatment room where I just kept staring at the white walls trying to accept the diagnosis.”

When she finally did, she vowed to lead a valiant fight. Hernandez endured numerous surgeries, including a lumpectomy. When doctors realized the cancer had spread, she had a mastectomy, followed by months of chemotherapy that took a toll on her body, leaving her physically and mentally exhausted.

Throughout her battle with cancer, she never lost sight of her dreams and learned to focus on what really mattered in life.

“It was a life-changing experience that caused me to take stock in who I was and where I wanted to be in the future,” Hernandez said. “I decided I was going to move on with my life and go for the college degree I always wanted.”

She enrolled as a full-time student at Morrisville State College’s Norwich Campus the following year.

Returning to school after so many years had lapsed wasn’t Hernandez’s greatest fear; it was interacting with traditional-aged college students.

“I was afraid I would not have anything in common with them,” Hernandez said, “but that wasn’t the case and I realized that having different age groups in the same classes kept it interesting and refreshing.”

There were other challenges associated with going back to school, like juggling a full-time job while carrying a full-time course load and passing a difficult business statistics course; but professors were always there to provide her with assistance and reassurance.

Their support was paramount when cancer affected her life again.

Hernandez’s sister died of brain cancer during the beginning of her second year. Four months later, she lost her mother to lung disease.

“My professors were helpful and understanding, working with me through all of my family issues,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t have accomplished everything I have without them.”

At Morrisville’s Norwich campus, Hernandez tutors fellow students in Spanish, business law and accounting. She excelled academically being named to the Dean’s List and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society.

College has opened doors and a world of opportunity for Hernandez who is still adjusting to her life as a cancer survivor. Although she has been cancer-free for three years, routine checkups are a large part of her life. So is maintaining a positive outlook and enjoying every minute of every day. The word survivor has driven her to embrace everything she has in life.

She shares an important message with cancer patients, survivors and others who are looking for hope.

“I like to let people know that just because you are diagnosed with cancer, doesn’t mean you have to stop living,” Hernandez said. “I have found that I am stronger mentally, physically and emotionally than I ever thought I could be.”

Other cancer survivors inspire her. So does life.

“It’s not too late in life to do everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing,” Hernandez said, “like parasailing and horseback riding.”

Aside from surviving cancer, graduating from college is one of the pinnacles in her life.

On graduation day, Hernandez will don a cap and gown just like other graduates. Hers, however, will be decorated with a pink ribbon.

Morrisville State College offers 12 bachelor degrees and a wide variety of associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers associate degree programs in business, technologies, liberal arts transfer, and nursing to Chenango County area residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate bachelor degrees at the main campus. Its new academic building, Roger W. Follett Hall, opened in June 2005 to accommodate the growing need for programs and services.