Merle: Lady's Not Singing the Blues
Merle S. loves to sing. It is her gift, her blessing. And when she does, her jazzy, gospel, classical voice brings joy and healing to those who hear it.
But it was not always that way. There was a time more than a decade ago when Merle could not find the words or the tune or the feeling. If she’d sung then, it would have been nothing but the blues.
But that was all before. Before Merle was treated at Mercy Medical Center. Before she overcame cancer. Before she found the voice that would bring such pleasure to her and to others.
In one fell swoop in the late summer of 2001 Merle was hushed. Her mother was very ill and Merle was taking constant care of her. It was wearing her down. On September 11 of that year the whole world changed. On that same day, so too did Merle’s, when she was diagnosed with cancer. A short while later her mother passed away.
“It was a challenging year,” she said. “It tested my faith, but in the end it made me stronger.”
That fall, despite the trials, Merle began to find her voice.
Finding Her Voice
She was first introduced to Mercy Medical Center after she was referred by her primary care physician. She would have surgery to remove the cancer performed by Dr. Dwight Im, Director of The Gynecologic Oncology Center at Mercy. That would be followed by seven weeks of radiation treatments, five days a week for five weeks at Mercy, then two weeks at a different hospital for mega doses.
It was a tough time, Merle says now, more than a dozen years later, but there were signs even then that things would get better.
One of them was Dr. Im.
“One thing I will always remember,” Merle said. “It was after I’d been diagnosed with the cancer. Dr. Im said to me ‘with God’s help you’re going to be ok.’ It comforted me.”
Merle didn’t just survive cancer; she endured a number of other health issues and lived to sing about it. In 2004 she retired from her job with the Social Security Administration, in part because of back problems. She sought treatment at Mercy, with Dr. Kay Nwe of Internal Medicine who subsequently diagnosed her with diabetes. She was then referred to Dr. Errol Rushovich an endocrinologist and Director of The Center for Bone Health at Mercy. Dr. Rushovich encouraged me to lose some weight, and I have and continue to,” she said. “He’s been with me the entire way. He’s been great.”
“I’ve had good experiences all around at Mercy,” she added. “It seemed I faced one thing after another, but once you’ve survived cancer, when you have good doctors you can handle the rest.”
And then, after all that and more, Merle found the healing strength of her voice.
“I always enjoyed singing but I would only really sing for my children,” she said. “When my son was young he would say ‘sing mommy, sing,' and I would. But I didn’t think of myself as a singer.”
It was after she’d been treated for the cancer and diabetes that Merle would find her true gift, and soon, others would call for her to sing too.
Holding A Lot of Beautiful Notes
In 2006, then five years cancer-free, Merle joined a local senior organization through a church near her home in Woodlawn, MD. The following year the group entered her in the 2007 Maryland Senior Idol competition, a statewide contest for singers over 60 to showcase their vocal talent.
She made it through the local rounds and onto the state finals.
Her song was Misty. “Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree.”
She was anything but. She won Maryland Senior Idol that year. With a perfect score from the judges.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do my best,” she said. “It was quite a moment. I’d come a long way.”
The day after she won Maryland Senior Idol, Merle received a phone call congratulating her. It was Dr. Im. He’d seen her picture and an article in the Baltimore Sun. He knew where she’d come from, and where she had gone. He knew she would sing again.
Even with her triumph, Merle was given additional challenges and additional reasons to sing the praises of Mercy. She was having problems with her lung capacity which required medication and other treatments. She would be treated by Dr. Albert Polito, Director of The Lung Center at Mercy and Chief of the Division of Pulmonary Medicine. “He’s a wonderful doctor,” she said. “Being treated by Dr. Polito has even helped me hold my notes longer.”
These days Merle is holding a lot of beautiful notes. With her newfound voice she raises the spirits and memories of others. She sings regularly at venues throughout the Baltimore area under the name Lady M. She has her own website. She performs at senior communities, health care facilities, clubs, parties, wherever there’s a willing ear for a gifted voice. She calls it creating “magical, musical moments.”
“My passion now is to use my gift of singing to administer to the need of seniors by performing songs of bygone years,” she said. “It’s something special to take people to places they’ve been and to reawaken them. It makes people smile, and in turn that makes me smile.”
And it takes her back to where she’s been too. Reawakened, and singing.
“I talk about being a cancer survivor at my shows,” she said. “It’s a part of who I am.
"I’m blessed to have received the treatment I have and I’m still comfortable with the care I receive at Mercy and the doctors there. I’ve had very good experience there.”
“I look at my voice and my health as gifts from God. As long as I have them both, I’ll be singing. Every day I sing, no matter if I’m happy or sad. It’s like the old song says, without a song the day would never end.”
And Merle's day has not ended. Not as long as she can sing, and bring joy to those who are blessed to hear her.