Marlene Paez Dukes
August’s theme is perhaps the most central to the mission of CreativeMornings: COMMUNITY. We couldn’t be more excited and interested to hear from our speaker this month, Jenna Benn Shersher, the Founder and Executive Director of Twist Out Cancer.
Jenna is a 36 year old cancer survivor, civil rights advocate, world traveler and tiny twister who dreams big. In December 2010, Jenna was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called Grey Zone Lymphoma that at the time affected fewer than 200 people. Instead of surrendering to cancer, she was determined to find meaning in her suffering. In the course of her fight, Jenna figured out creative ways to leverage social media to process her experience, and in turn create a community that became invested in her fight. In the course of a year, Jenna battled cancer and founded the nonprofit Twist Out Cancer.
Join us on Friday, August 24th, to hear about her journey and creative, community-building efforts in-person, and enjoy our pre-event interview with Jenna below! See you soon!
How would you define this month’s theme, community, in one sentence or less?
I define community as a place where you can be vulnerable, ask for help and connect with others.
What are three words that start with the letter C (for community, Chicago and CreativeMornings!) that describe yourself/your personality?
Courageous, Caring, Creative.
I read that Twist Out Cancer began with you sharing a video of yourself dancing on YouTube. Twist Out Cancer was launched and then used social media to develop and foster the community in existence today. What inspired you to bridge this amazing online community you created to in-person events and programming like Brushes with Cancer?
That is a great question! When I first created Twist, I had spent the last year in and out of lockdown. With a compromised immune system, I had no choice but to retreat to the online world- as it was too dangerous to be around family and friends. I saw the value in social media and creating community online but realized fairly quickly that it could not and should not replace face to face interaction. As I started to heal, and get stronger I started seeing more people and realized how much I missed being able to look into the eyes of those I love. Twist now utilizes online and community wide events in order to meet people where they are at (in treatment, post treatment and throughout survivorship).
What was the most surprising part of starting Twist Out Cancer?
That we were able to transition it from a grassroots movement into a viable nonprofit (that still exists 7 years later!).
What are the top three places you find inspiration?
My daughter is a constant reminder to savor each moment and marvel at the gift of life. I find inspiration through the stories of our Brushes with Cancer participants, who agree to make themselves vulnerable and join us on this new journey of storytelling and healing. And finally, I get inspiration from pushing my body and mind to new limits. The fact that I am here is a miracle, and that my body and mind have recovered is truly a blessing.
With all the creatives in our community, how can people get involved and support the creative and healing mission of Twist Out Cancer?
Join us on November 3rd at Brushes with Cancer in Chicago, consider participating as an artist or inspiration, and help spread the word about our mission and work to individuals touched by cancer.