Merlinda Chelette, R.N.

Merlinda Chelette
Merlinda Chelette

The Kidney Cancer Program and the patient advocacy community have lost a fierce advocate, leader, and innovator in raising awareness of the issues kidney cancer patients experience. After struggling with metastatic kidney cancer for seven years, Merlinda Chelette, R.N., passed away shortly after midnight on April 17, 2019.

A critical care and emergency room nurse practitioner, Merlinda was uncompromising in her pursuit of truly outstanding care for her patients. When destiny turned and she became a patient herself, she leveraged her extensive nursing background to make a sweeping impact in her new role as a kidney cancer advocate.

"Merlinda was a cornerstone of our Kidney Cancer Program," said Dr. James Brugarolas, director of the UT Southwestern Medical Center Kidney Cancer Program. "She and fellow advocate Tony Towler were the founders of the patient advocacy program the Kidney Cancer Program has today.  Merlinda continually served as a tremendous resource for kidney cancer patients and families, from making sure new patients were welcomed with open arms and felt a sense of belonging to reassuring them that they were not alone in their fight."

Merlinda was instrumental in creating a survivorship mindset that focused on adapting to life with, through, and beyond cancer. Her relentless and impassioned advocacy extended from small cancer support groups at UT Southwestern Medical Center to kidney cancer patients and survivors as far away as Australia. She also played a pivotal role in the development of a spiritual support program for UT Southwestern cancer patients and staff, advocating for the creation of a chaplain position at UT Southwestern’s Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Beyond her advocacy efforts, Merlinda was a tireless supporter to increase awareness of and funding for kidney cancer research. She was the driving force behind the Kidney Cancer Program’s fundraising events like the charity golf tournament and the Rock the Cure galas.

Her husband, Ricky Chelette, supported her in all of her initiatives and she thrived within the close-knit kidney cancer community. Merlinda’s legacy has now been taken up by five other members of the Kidney Cancer Program's Patient Council, including several patients like her who are battling stage IV kidney cancer.

"Merlinda’s passing is a profound loss of an extraordinary woman," said Brugarolas. "All of us at the Kidney Cancer Program will remember her for her relentless advocacy and steadfast leadership. She will be greatly missed, and never forgotten."