Inspirational Speaker, Musician, 2X Breast Cancer Survivor and Advocate
Marcy Brenner is an inspirational speaker, professional musician, songwriter, two-time breast cancer survivor and advocate for cancer survivors.
Marcy’s life-threatening illness bestowed unexpected gifts in backhanded ways. Through intimate personal story, a powerful documentary film and enchanting songs, Marcy brings joy and clarity to survivors and caregivers. Friendly and uplifting, her “insanely positive” attitude shines through everything she does and, unlike cancer, is contagious. Her cancer journey gave her an understanding that never would have come without the experience, and she lets everyone in on the wonder of it. She encourages us to “live while you are alive.”
Marcy was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34 — the same year she lost her mother to ovarian cancer. Although the tumor was smaller than a pea, it was aggressive; already stage two. She found herself sitting in the same chairs her mother had sat in only 6 months ago, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. The cancer later returned with a vengeance in her hip, spine and chest. She underwent a stem cell transplant in 2000 and has been free of cancer ever since.
She knew it the moment the bandages came off and she saw her heart beating through her new cancer-free chest. Instead of being devastated, she would reach out to those who face the losses cancer brings, specifically breast cancer, because surprisingly, she was okay. She was flooded with the desire to let others know it can be okay for them too. She vowed to “go anywhere and do anything” to help others through the basement of a cancer diagnosis. She has spent the last 20 years offering a hand in the darkness and isolation of a cancer diagnosis to individuals and groups and celebrating being truly alive.
Marcy is a performing songwriter, author and cancer advocate. She lives on the remote island of Ocracoke off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks with her husband, Lou Castro. Together they are the musical duo called Coyote. They have a magical spot on the edge of the harbor – the Coyote Music Den – where they create, teach and share words and live music.
Marcy wrote a song entitled Dead Girl Walking as a way to express what it is like living with the shadow of advanced breast cancer. She wrote the song to “go first,” to be brave enough to describe what it’s like to live with a life-threatening illness — the ever-present threat that one may have met the thing that may take their life. Documentary filmmaker Ray Schmitt heard the song and was inspired to make a film of the same name that has won numerous awards across the country and in Canada. The documentary film Dead Girl Walking was given the Amazing Grace Award at the BreastFest Film Festival in Toronto, Canada and multiple Share Recovery Self Help awards in Los Angeles, CA.
Marcy was awarded a Hambidge Center Fellowship in support of her creative non-fiction memoir entitled A Hundred Years of Waiting about prevailing the extraordinary life experiences which have given her the backhanded gifts of which she speaks. The book that started as an exploration of self-image after mastectomy became the inspiration for helping others discover the gifts waiting inside of difficult experiences in life. Marcy is currently working on a book of stories and recipes from her family’s Brenner’s Bakery, a beloved Washington, DC, area favorite for 70 years.
Marcy and Lou have produced and published 5 recordings and toured with the internationally-known Molasses Creek folk band, also from Ocracoke Island. Marcy and Lou front the post-hurricane party band in the Nicholas Sparks film Nights In Rodanthe starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane and are included on the soundtrack in company with Emmylou Harris, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and The Dillard’s.
In addition to the types of events listed, Marcy has also presented for medical facilities and teaching hospitals, cancer centers, support organizations, film and storytelling festivals, workshops and discussion panels.
Marcy, her two sisters and niece were featured in a Raleigh News and Observer series entitled “In the Family” which chronicled their experience through genetic testing.
Most Popular Topics:
Wake Up Call to Life
Alternate Titles: Music with a Message or Live While You Are Alive
Through story, film and song, Marcy shares her inspiring story of not only surviving life-threatening illness, specifically breast cancer, but finding the backhanded gifts hidden in the experiences. She brings everyone into her story in a uniquely intimate way that delights and inspires listeners. The award-winning documentary film, Dead Girl Walking, is a powerful platform for her story. Her songs are enchanting, her message universal (and, at times, humorous), and her presentation extraordinary and uplifting.
In the Family
Marcy tells her story, screens the film and plays the songs, including the perspective of genetics. Genetics have played a major not only for her, but other members of her family. This genetic story includes why her family underwent genetic testing, how they dealt with the process, the information it did (and didn’t) provide, and the usefulness of knowing her rare BRCA1 and BRCA2 status. Her mother carried BRCA1 and her adopted daughter carried a rare genetic syndrome which ended her life. This story includes additional topics of adoption, loss of a child, grief recovery and gratitude, none of which are included in “Live While You Are Alive” above.