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'All Wigged Out' is about fighting cancer with humor and humanity

Grammy Award-winning musicians Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink sing about the unexpected humor they encountered during Marxer's seven-year fight with breast cancer in the concert film, <em>All Wigged Out</em>.
Todd Rosenberg
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Community Music Inc.
Grammy Award-winning musicians Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink sing about the unexpected humor they encountered during Marxer's seven-year fight with breast cancer in the concert film, All Wigged Out.

When Grammy-Award-winning musician Marcy Marxer learned she had breast cancer, she didn't get sad or mad. She got funny. Marxer, who's one half of the award-winning duo, Cathy and Marcy started posting cartoons, memes and musings on social media as a way updating friends on her cancer treatments. But her work was suddenly finding a wider audience of people dealt a cancer diagnosis, and they were applauding her.

"I was talking about my breasts, which I don't actually do generally in public. It's personal but I find when I talk about my breasts, other people think it's funny," Marxer told Morning Edition host Leila Fadel.

It wasn't long before a network took shape out that social media following. "I got a lot of messages from people talking about their cancer situations. So, I ended up being kind of a chemo coach for a bunch of people and connecting with other people who help patients get through it."

Marxer, and Cathy Fink, her partner in music and in life, decided to turn the experience into, of all things, a movie musical comedy: All Wigged Out. The narrative follows Marxer's seven-year journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Marcy Marxer does her best Uncle Fester impression after losing her hair to chemotherapy. Images like this earned Marxer a following on social media and formed the backbone of the humor in the cancer musical film, <em>All Wigged Out</em>.
Marcy Marxer / Community Music Inc
/
Community Music Inc
Marcy Marxer does her best Uncle Fester impression after losing her hair to chemotherapy. Images like this earned Marxer a following on social media and formed the backbone of the humor in the cancer musical film, All Wigged Out.

Positive in a negative way

Marxer remembers the day, in 2015. She was holding a ukulele workshop when her doctor called.

"I'd had a biopsy and my doctor explained that the results were positive. And I said, 'Positive. You mean, positive in a negative way?' Positive should be good. So right away, some things about the whole medical process didn't make much sense to me," Marxer recalls. "They seemed a little backwards and a little bit funny and a little worth poking fun at."

Information from unexpected places

Marxer's doctor was a little vague about whether she might lose her hair during chemotherapy. Just in case, Marxer and Fink paid a visit to Amy of Denmark, a wig shop in Wheaton, Md. That's where they learned a few things the doctor didn't tell them.

"When we walked in, this woman, Sandy, said, 'What's your diagnosis? What's your cocktail? Who's your doctor?' This was all stuff she was familiar with, Fink recalls. "Once we gave Sandy all the information, she looked at Marcy, she said, 'When's your first chemo?' Marcy said, 'It was two days ago,' and Sandy just looked up and said, 'Honey, we got to make a plan. You're going to be bald in 10 days.'"

The wig shop experience turns up as a musical number in All Wigged Out. Likewise, "Unsolicited Advice," which recounts all the possibly well-intended — but completely unhelpful — comments that come from friends and others. And there's even an upbeat chemotherapy number, "I Feel A Little Tipsy," about a particular side effect of treatment.

Role Reversal

At its core, All Wigged Out is the portrait of an enviable marriage weathering the most unenviable of times. And now Marxer and Fink find their roles suddenly reversed. Fink got her diagnosis a few months ago: she has breast cancer.

"We are living in a little chapter that we're calling 'The Irony and the Ecstasy,'" Fink told Leila Fadel. I'm working with our team that's promoting All Wigged Out, partially from my chemo chair."

Fink says her prognosis is positive — positive, this time, in a good way — and, this time, at least, they're better-trained than they were eight years ago.

About those hard-earned skills, Marxer says, "One thing we know is patients try to live their life to the best of their abilities, and doctors are trying to save your life. And those are two very different things. We do understand that we're walking two lines. One is the process of making sure that Kathy is going to be fine and live a long and happy life. And the other is living our lives while we go through this."

Marxer predicts large doses of humor will be a major part of the treatment protocol.

The broadcast interview was produced by Barry Gordemer and edited by Jacob Conrad.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.
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