Twist Out Cancer is a global community, which provides psychosocial support to cancer survivors and their loved ones through creative art programming. Anyone touched by cancer can CONNECT, CREATE, SUPPORT and INSPIRE.
Jenna Benn Shersher, Founder and Executive Director of Twist Out Cancer, was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma in December 2010. With a compromised immune system and a deepening sense of isolation, Jenna’s dancing videos inspired thousands of “twisters” around the world. So impressed by the outpouring of support, her opportunity to give back was to create Twist Out Cancer.
Their signature program Brushes with Cancer provides an outlet for individuals to create unique pieces of artwork with matched artists.
“I never intended to create a global non-profit. I was merely trying to make it out alive”.
Jenna, you were diagnosed at age 29 with a rare cancer. To educate us, can you please tell us about the cancer, the symptoms you had, the treatment and what we should know about it?
I was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called Grey Zone Lymphoma which is a blood cancer that has features of both Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. At the time of my diagnosis in 2010 there were less than 200 people around the world that had been diagnosed with the disease. I was treated with 720 hours of R-EPOCh which was given intravenously during 5-6 day inpatient hospitalizations. During that time I underwent 3 blood transfusions and came down with Sepsis. I feel very lucky to be here.
Prior to my diagnosis I noticed a steady decline in my health. I had lost weight, had flu like symptoms and extreme fatigue for a period of 8 months. My orthopedist ordered a scan because I had come in with nerve pain twice in a short period of time. Luckily the scan is what found the mass in my mediastinum.
Twist out Cancer went from a community of twisters on a video to thousands of people connecting worldwide. Did you expect your idea to grow into a global phenomenon? What is the principle behind its success?
I never intended to create a global non-profit. I was merely trying to make it out alive. What I found was that during my treatment and recovery, I was given the opportunity to dig deep and take stock of what I had just gone through. The luxury of time allowed for me to see the gaping holes that exist in our cancer support community. I found great strength and comfort in being able to come forward with my story. I coined the phrase, “when you share the world opens up”. I found the more that I opened up about my experiences the more connected and meaningful were my relationships.
After I finished treatment I was determined to find meaning in my suffering. I was determined to give a voice to the voiceless and to encourage others to come forward with their twist on cancer. Twist Out Cancer provides psychosocial support to individuals touched by cancer through creative arts programming. The principal behind our success is that we have created a safe a nurturing community for individuals to share what they are going through. When we start talking about our experiences we are able to conquer the feelings of isolation, loneliness and shame that can accompany a diagnosis. We have used social media to help tell our story and that has been integral to getting the word out about our work.
What are some of the most memorable twist in action challenges you have seen? What makes them so special?
One of the most memorable calls to action was from the late Shawn Green. Shawn was a TOC board member who was fighting a second recurrence of brain cancer. Shawn eventually lost the ability to move his arm and his challenge to the community was to raise your hand and waive hello. Something so simple had so much meaning to Shawn and his family.
It was a reminder to all of us that we can take the most basic acts for granted. His challenge garnered over 150,000 views on Facebook. His wife Erin Green is on our board and has been able to carry on his legacy through her activism with Twist Out Cancer.
How does your Brushes with Cancer signature program create a unique art experience and improve one’s life?
Brushes with Cancer creates unexpected intersections between those touched by cancer and artists. The 4-6 month program provides our inspirations with a platform to share their story and the artists with an opportunity to create a work of art reflective of their journey. The relationships formed between the inspiration and artist are meaningful, supportive and therapeutic in nature. The best part is that the pairs are also a part of a larger community of Brushes with Cancer alumni who are there for them throughout their journey.
Brushes with Cancer Chicago 2017 gala, celebration and auction, will be held on Saturday, September 9th. Apply today.
If someone wanted to attend one of your regional celebrations including art exhibition, gala and auction, where can they find the information?
The best place to find all information related to Twist Out Cancer and Brushes with Cancer is on our website.
What kind of experience will they come away with?
Brushes with Cancer is a celebration of life, survivorship and healing. We believe that when you share and connect you can eventually heal. This event celebrates the journey that previvors, survivors, caregivers and supporters have experienced and the art commemorates that journey. The exhibition and gala is the highlight of the program where the community comes together to hear the stories and see the myriad of experiences represented.
What do you want Brushes with Cancer and your organization to look like 5-10 years from now? What are your “big dreams” for Twist Out Cancer?
We are currently in the process of expanding Brushes with Cancer to new cities across the globe. In September we will hold our 5th annual program in Chicago and in March of 2018 we are expanding to Tel Aviv Israel. In June we will officially launch in Montreal and soon after that we will be holding our 3rd annual event in Toronto Canada.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to expand this program to new markets. My hope is that we are able to continue sustaining our current programs and grow BWC to new cities in the next five years. With cancer as the common denominator that does not discriminate, we have the opportunity to bring all walks of life together for a common cause. I hope that the artwork created through BWC will eventually be able to be on display at cancer centers across the world in order to educate, inform and inspire.
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Brushes with Cancer – Chicago, September, 2017