Marci Kyle is not a singer. Or a songwriter. So she isn't sure what inspired her to tell one of her patients, Lester Healy, that she'd sing for him at his last chemotherapy appointment. "His wife told me, 'I'm going to hold you to that,'" Marci, a social worker in the Hematology/Oncology Department at Mayo Clinic's campus in Arizona, tells us. So she went back to her office with one question on her mind: "What am I going to do?"
After some head scratching (and internet searching), Marci came up with a plan. She decided to tweak the lyrics to the "Banana Boat Song" — better known as "Day-O." Or, in Marci's version, "May-O." And on the day of Lester's last appointment, she was ready to serenade him with lines like, "The chemo is done and you want to go home."
Her debut performance earned rave reviews. "Lester told me it was one of the best things that happened to him at Mayo," Marci says, adding that he even asked her to sign the lyric sheet she held during her performance. "We still have it on our fridge," Lester's wife, Gerry, says. "It just meant everything to us that Marci would do that. She lightened the atmosphere and made it easier for Lester to tolerate what he was going through."
The singing social worker (as we like to call her) has now done the same for close to a dozen more patients. "When I finished singing for Lester, a couple of other patients in the area asked if I'd sing for them when they finished treatment," Marci says. It's a tradition she plans to continue. "If a patient shares with me that their last chemo is coming up, I try to make every effort to be there for it and sing to them," she says.
Marci tells us that the response has reminded her that sometimes a small gesture can make a big difference. "Little things can change the mood, even for a moment," Marci says. "After I was done singing for Lester, people were clapping. They were smiling. They were happy for that moment." It's just one more lesson she's learned from her patients, who Marci says "have taught me more about my job than I ever learned in school."
It's a job she seems made for. "She's a wonderful person, a very gentle soul," Gerry says of Marci. "She still calls us and lets us know she's there if we need anything. I wish every patient could have her in their life. Mayo Clinic has a prize in her."
But Marci says she's the real winner. "It's a blessing for me to have the opportunity to be part of people's lives" during their cancer treatment, she tells us. "My heart goes out to our patients and their families. It's an honor to be in their lives at that type of moment."
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