Lifting Voices and Spirits

Cancer Survivor Teaches Music—and Kindness

Debra Michaels believes that children should raise their voices. She believes they should raise their voices in song, in gratitude, and in pursuit of a good cause.

Michaels, a professional voice teacher, doesn’t just give voice lessons to children, she gives important life lessons. She is the founder of Kidz4Cuz! Cares, an organization that raises money for charitable causes through concerts and music videos featuring her students.

In December of 2019, the young singers—ages 7 through 19—strolled the corridors of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer CenterWashington Township to serenade patients receiving chemotherapy and to hand out gift bags they assembled. The brightly-lit hallways and sterile infusion rooms were an all too familiar sight to Michaels; just two years earlier she was a patient there.

Michaels was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017. In a whirlwind few months she went from driving dozens of miles a week throughout the tri-state area to give singing lessons to fighting the battle of her life.

In October of 2017, a three-hour surgery turned into a 12-hour procedure rife with complications. Yet, her doctor, Robin Wilson-Smith, DO, who specializes in gynecologic oncology, gave her good news: the cancer was in its early stages. It was curable.

Yet, Michaels says the journey back to health left her weak and frail. What kept her going on her most difficult days was the steadfast dedication to the students, the music, and the desire to make life better for those in need.

When traveling to give voice lessons left her exhausted, Michaels created Drop the Mic, Inc., a vocal studio in Wenonah, NJ, so that the students could come to her. And when the cancer treatments started to overwhelm her, she would remember the kids, the video they were making, and the music that healed.

Michaels and her partner, Bob Burke, also credit Wilson-Smith and SKCC for Michaels’ recovery.

“There’s a magic that happens between Debra and Dr. Wilson-Smith,” Burke says. “They have redefined the doctor-patient relationship.”

Her experience at Jefferson inspired Michaels to dedicate a Kidz4Cuz! Cares project to SKCC and its patients. They raised money through concerts and other events to purchase items to create the gift bags for patients at SKCC. The bags contained items that only a cancer survivor would know to include: a blanket; a soft toothbrush and special toothpaste (because chemo and radiation effect the gums); an organic snack bar and juice for chemo days; Lifesavers, lip balm, a puzzle book (to pass the time during treatment), a journal (to track the journey to wellness), and socks.

The children put together 100 bags in August 2019, and the reaction was so positive that they decided to assemble 100 more bags for the holidays in December. But instead of just dropping off the bags to be distributed, the group decided to provide one more gift—the gift of music.

The children strolled the hallways and visited infusion rooms to sing holiday songs to patients receiving chemotherapy treatments and hand out the bags in person.

“This teaches them to be humble; it teaches them that they are blessed to not have major health issues,” Michaels says, adding, “It teaches them there’s nothing better than giving back and paying forward.”

Unfortunately, this past December COVID-19 kept her students from visiting the hospital, but they continue to work on other projects to benefit the community.

“We are planning to do more performing and fundraising in 2021,” says Michaels, who battled a serious case of COVID-19 herself. “We cannot wait until COVID is over and we are once again able to use our Kidz4Cuz! Cares platform to make a positive difference in our community.”