At just 29 years old, Glencoe native Jenna Benn Shersher was diagnosed with grey zone lymphoma, a rare cancer that affects fewer than 300 people in the United States.
Treatments weakened Benn Shersher’s immune system, leaving her feeling isolated, alone and longing to do the simplest things, such as dance uninhibitedly around her room.
During a better day, she posted a video onto the Internet of herself twisting to Chubby Checker. Unexpectedly, videos from all over the world flooded in of friends, and even of complete strangers, dancing in support of Benn Shersher. The encouragement instantly lifted her spirits and inspired her to create Twist Out Cancer (TOC). “I recognized the power of sharing and the importance of creating a support community that caters to the psychosocial needs of those affected by cancer,” Benn Shersher says.
TOC encourages those touched by cancer to create a profile on their website; it serves as a forum to express creativity and share artistic passion with others.
“A survivor who loves to cook might ask his community to share recipes or pictures of special dinners his loved ones have created in his honor,” Benn Shersher says. “This ‘twist’ becomes a collection of videos, posts, songs, pictures or other media gifted by loved ones and friends. This is a personalized, digital legacy that encourages individuals to share and the community to give.”
Benn Shersher understands the amount of courage it takes to share your “twist” on cancer, whether it’s through words, song, dance, art or any other type of creative medium. This process has established connections between those fighting cancer with other survivors, as well as supporters from the public.
In addition to TOC, Benn Shersher recently launched a second program called Brushes with Cancer, which pairs artists with cancer survivors to create art for a cause. At a recent Brushes with Cancer fundraiser, guests enjoyed musical entertainment, notable speakers and an auction of one-of-a-kind works of art.
Benn Shersher hopes to expand Twist Out Cancer and Brushes with Cancer throughout the country and work collectively with major cancer centers to produce workshops in both the United States and Canada. Both Twist Out Cancer and Brushes with Cancer continue to host creative events that celebrate survivorship through the arts, and the organizations are always looking for involvement from survivors and the community.