A Collaboration All Their Own

Lauren Smoke felt a lump in her breast six weeks after she became pregnant with her first child.  Eight weeks into the pregnancy she received a call – the lump was malignant. Lauren, a healthy yoga and music teacher for children, vividly recalls the moment that she realized she had breast cancer. She feared the worst. Losing her baby.

Pregnancy is a period of physical and emotional challenges. For Lauren, pregnancy included surgery and chemotherapy. Lauren received support from a community of women who received breast cancer treatment while pregnant.

Lauren had a son, Nico. He was born at 35 weeks healthy.

After one year and a half of remission, October 2016, Lauren was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer that has spread to the Mediastinal lymph nodes.
Dr. David Turok has been an artist for Brushes with Cancer, a program of Twist Out Cancer that provides psycho-social support to those touched by Cancer to improve the quality of life for Cancer patients, their family and loved ones, through a unique art experience. He more recently joined the board this past July because of his strong belief in Twist Out Cancer’s mission and programs.

Dr. David Turok is dentist and an artist based in Chicago. A few years ago, David was inspired by a piece of art that his niece painted. He decided to use the work as the canvas and backdrop for a meaningful art experience that would involve the whole family. The experiment became the foundation for his highly successful venture called KidCollab, which provides a unique and impactful experience for parents and family members, where the children’s art serves as the canvas for David’s painting. His instincts have proven to be accurate, as he has received numerous requests for artwork is booked out months in advance.

David believes that Brushes has been one of the most rewarding and engaging experiences of his life.

Lauren and David both participated in Brushes with Cancer last year, and connected at an event where David advertised KidCollab. Lauren contacted him to commission a piece after her first battle with cancer; they reconnected after her second diagnosis.

Finishing Lauren’s painting is a priority. Recently, Nico painted the background, moving around the canvas creatively and freely. David and Lauren have a developed a connection throughout the process. He recalls Lauren, “sang the most beautiful version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star you have ever heard.” The painting will be an image of Lauren when she was pregnant with an elephant that has particular meaning to her and her family.

One of David’s favorite projects was created for Jenna Benn Shersher, Founder and Executive Director of Twist Out Cancer as a surprise. Jenna was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma at the age of 29. Therefore, there was an uncertainty regarding her ability to conceive a child. Her daughter is for all intensive purposes a miracle- and a blessing. For the piece, Jenna’s daughter, Noa Pearl, painted the canvas. The painting has an image of Jenna hula hooping, and  holding Noa, which represents the miracle of her birth.

According to Jenna, the piece serves as a constant reminder of how art can not only tell a story but serve as a tremendous catalyst for healing. David’s work hangs proudly in Noa’s room and is a constant reminder of the power of hope.

The connection that David and Lauren made after the Brushes with Cancer event showcases the power of the program and the importance of building community. Brushes with Cancer is not only about providing participants with a unique art experience, it is about building a supportive community that is there for them throughout their journey. Lauren, now facing her second bout with Cancer, has a community behind her that is ready to support her through every step.

To learn more about Brushes with Cancer and supporting our program please check our website for updated program details.


Meet Brushes with Cancer Artist Alumni – Doug Jones

MEET Doug Jones, a professional artist with a background in non-profit work. He is a veteran Brushes with Cancer participant who has been involved since its inception. Doug says he met Jenna (the founder) through a mutual college friend and “she was so lovely to be around that we connected immediately”. Specializing in Wonder Woman art, Doug’s first Brushes piece was for Noreen who had received a Wonder Woman figurine in the mail the day before she was diagnosed. Since then, Doug became a strong believer in the benefits of the program and he has not only participated in all of the Brushes events, but he also assisted with planning the first Michigan Brushes event, and is hoping to get a Detroit event on the calendar soon.

“My background is in psychology.” Jones says. “Mainly trauma and resilience-oriented therapy. I have used art therapy a lot and I have seen the benefits of art in therapeutic efforts.” The biggest benefit of the program, in his eyes, is that “people can see they are not alone.” An important aspect of healing therapy after any trauma is to find individuals who have had similar experiences. “This is a great reminder that people live through and with this all the time. A diagnosis is not a death sentence,” he emphasizes. “I think those are the two biggest benefits [of the Brushes program]: the sense of belonging and understanding that this is not a death sentence.”

Doug goes on to say that “

“My involvement with Twist has been such a journey. I wasn’t sure if Jenna was going to survive that first year, and it was such an emotional experience. I have a unique sense of joy just watching [Twist Out Cancer] grow. From participating, to being on the host committee, it has been just such an incredible journey.” Doug speaks fondly about the organization as if he is a proud father, watching his baby grow and expand and do good in the world.

To someone who is considering participating, Jones offers his own takeaway from being part of the Brushes with Cancer family: “I have seen insights – each of my people have shared things with me that they feel they can’t share with anyone. There is something about the idea that I am a stranger, and because of the purpose of the project they feel they have been able to share things with me. Those true insights into their personal experiences are the things I cherish the most. I would not have known these people, many of whom have become friends, without this program.”



Meet Brad Young, Brushes with Cancer Featured Artist


MEET Brad Young, father, artist, and carpenter. His background in art is varied and spans multiple expressions including pastel, music, drawing, painting, and sculpting. “I consider myself more of an artistic soul than a master of a certain art form.” Brad says. “I have found interest in all mediums and I appreciate all forms of art. I was in a band when I was young, and I took some art classes, but I am mostly self-taught, I guess.” he explains. Brad has done two Brushes with Cancer events; one in Chicago and one in Ann Arbor.

“I was introduced to the program by Bowen Kline, who is one of my closest friends.” After attending the launch party in November of 2014 for the Chicago 2015 event, Brad found Brushes to be “inspiring”, and a great use of art. “Art is often used to express only the artist’s point of view on things, and in that way, art can be very selfish. I liked the idea that this program was focused on beautiful things: survivors and strength and resilience and that it requires the artist to be selfless and tell someone else’s story.”

Young says the biggest benefit of the program is the opportunity for people to come together in a beautiful way and find strength, hope, and love in one another through something that is very difficult. “Strength because you see the amount of people that have been affected, and there is comfort and community in that. Hope and love because we pour ourselves out to each other and support each other.” he emphasizes. Both times Brad participated, he used his woodworking skills to create very unique pieces for the art exhibition. Though he is not creating a piece for the upcoming Chicago gala in May, his piece “Healing Harp” from the Ann Arbor installment will be featured and auctioned off there.

“The biggest lesson I learned from all of this is that the Universe makes sure that we are in the right place at the right time. That sometimes things don’t make sense in the moment, but there’s a reason for everything that happens, even when it’s hard or sad. These are the things that shape our character into who we need to be.” He then speaks about his first subject and survivor, August Spree, who became very dear to him throughout the process of being paired in the Brushes program, “I just think about the big picture: if August had never been affected by cancer, we would never have met. If I had decided not to check out this program with Bowen, we would never have met. The amount of things that I have learned about myself and about life and love is priceless, all because I participated in [the] Brushes [program].” He goes on to say, “It might seem like a small thing, like it did to me at the very beginning, but it has already had a big affect on my life. I think that’s a big deal.”

Brad says to anyone who is looking into the Brushes program, “It’s a great opportunity to participate in something bigger than yourself. It can potentially help you and help someone else greatly – this program has a positive impact on a lot of people. To an artist, I would say it is one of the most beautiful ways to gift somebody with one of your talents.”



Press Release



Contact: Jenna Benn Shersher , Founder and Executive Director of Twist Out Cancer



February 15, 2016, Chicago, Illinois….On Friday, May 13th, 2016, Twist Out Cancer will host the Fourth Annual Brushes with Cancer Exhibition and Gala at Revel Fulton Market, located at 1215 W. Fulton Market.  Twist Out Cancer is a non-profit charitable organization that offers a platform for survivors, pre-vivers and caregivers of cancer to connect, support each other and heal. The signature event, Brushes with Cancer is a four month program that matches those touched by cancer with artists to create a unique piece of artwork reflected of their journey with cancer.  The artwork will be exhibited and put up for auction at the event with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Twist Out Cancer’s mission.

This year the gala will feature speakers Jenna Benn Shersher, Founder of Twist Out Cancer and Jonny Imerman, Founder of Imerman Angels. Music will be provided by grammy nominated composer, producer and pianist Sam Barsh, jazz vocalist Jesse Palter, and electric violinist Dr. Draw. DJ John Simmons will be spinning throughout the night.

Starting at 6:00 pm, VIP guests will attend a private reception with the program’s participating artists and subjects. Dinner will be provided by Limelight Catering and Entertaining Company.

Due to the success of Brushes with Cancer over the last four years, the program was able to successfully launch in Ann Arbor and Toronto.  If you are interested in participating in the program in one of our sister cities please contact Jenna Benn Shersher, Founder of Twist Out Cancer.

Established in 2011 as a non-profit organization, Twist Out Cancer (TOC) offers the platform, tools and community – both online and offline – for anyone touched by cancer to feel connected to a community, and for many to take action. Since its inception, TOC has touched over 63,000 through its programs and events. A labor of love, TOC is completely volunteer-led, boasting a network of over 200 active volunteers serving as ambassadors in Chicago, Detroit, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Montreal.

What: Brushes with Cancer

Date: Friday, May 13, 2016.

Time:  6:00 -12:00 PM

Location:Revel Fulton Market, 1215 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, Illinois.

Tickets:  Tickets are $150 for VIP and $100 for General Admission.  Tickets will be available for purchase online until May 12th at 5:00 pm.

Tickets include open bar, dinner, and the program. To purchase tickets online visit our website.

To learn more about supporting the program, exhibition and gala  please take a look at our sponsorship packages.

For media inquiries please contact Jenna Benn Shersher, Founder and Executive Director  of Twist Out Cancer.


Meet Jenifer Miya: Brushes with Cancer Featured Artist and Cancer Survivor

MEET Jenifer Miya: artist, survivor, teacher, esthetician, mother, and grandmother. Radiance, strength, and beauty oozes from her every pore. Jenifer grew up in Japan, exposed to art, but never considered it an integral part of her life until more recently. She is a unique artist in this year’s Brushes with Cancer Chicago program because last year she participated as a subject. Her battle with cancer is still affecting her life, but she has found comfort and hope in the Brushes program. “I was introduced to Brushes with Cancer through Bowen Kline. We had become friends on Facebook because of his art, and it was around the time of my diagnosis so he recommended the program because he thought I would benefit from it.” Jenifer explains. She goes on to say that participating in the Brushes program the first time gave her a chance to see “cancer from a completely different perspective. I was used to seeing cancer as an ‘illness’ or a ‘disease’ but this…this takes the word beyond that. That word was just following me around: cancer cancer CANCER. But then, I walked into that room [February 2015 at the Brushes with Cancer gala] and saw all the art and paintings and it was like a different world. Instead of seeing cancer when I walked into that room, I saw people…and journeys. It wasn’t some hospital or sterile doctor’s office, it was LIFE. People who had lived it. Normal functioning people with all different stories that have been transformed into art. It was warm and refreshing. At Brushes, I saw the art that can come from pain and journeys and survival. And that changed my perspective.”

Jenifer says that experience was very healing for her and after that, upon encouragement from another subject/survivor, she decided to participate in the next program as an artist. Her call to back to art was born from grief, as she walked through her brother’s room with a glass of wine in hand. It was 2001, and he had recently passed away, and Jenifer found herself browsing through some of his art supplies. She picked up a brush and began to paint, and has been doing it ever since. She finds that painting helps her cope in her most difficult times, and being able to use her art to bring some hope and healing to someone else is her motivation for participating as an artist in the 2016 Chicago Brushes program. “It is such a different experience this time, being matched with someone as an artist because last year I was her – I was the subject. Listening to [my subject] talk about her experience made me realize that I am not alone. I am not the only one who feels this way. It was eye-opening. If I can bring to someone else an ounce of what I felt when I first saw all of the art, I would feel like I did something good.” As Jenifer finds another layer of healing in the Brushes with Cancer program, she recommends it to other people. “I think they are very good at pairing people up. I am very happy with both of my matches as a survivor, and also as an artist. It is very fulfilling,” Miya adds. “Being part of such an uplifting experience is incredible.”


Brushes with Cancer Chicago 2016 Spotlight: Bowen Kline, Artist and Twist Out Cancer Ambassador

Photo Credit JeffSusan Cancelosi

MEET Bowen Kline, an artist and husband who lives in Romeo, Michigan, and has been involved with Brushes with Cancer for 3 years. Bowen describes himself as a “self-taught, fine painter” who has been doing gallery work for over 15 years. Bowen attributes his artistic influences to his environment growing up on the border of Southfield and Detroit, and his constant exposure to a diverse group of people. “I grew up in the arts,” he explains. “My exposure came from my parents and my upbringing. My dad always encouraged us to be creative and he supported us in that. He’s also my biggest critic too, always pushing me to do better, which is good. I have been surrounded by art and culture my whole life.”

This will be Bowen’s fourth time creating art for a Brushes with Cancer event. He was first approached by Jenna to participate in an event with the Chicago branch of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), and soon after he was invited to participate in Brushes with Cancer Chicago as well. “Working with Jenna on the ADL artworks project sparked a conversation with them about doing Brushes with Cancer. As an artist, one of the things that I enjoy so much about the Brushes program is that it is such a wonderful opportunity to see someone on an emotional level, to be able to connect with them in a different way. As a figurative painter, that is very important to me in my art.” says Bowen of his involvement with the program. Bowen says that he paints something every day, but being an integral participant in the Brushes program holds a special place in his heart, and not just due to the good cause behind it. “The biggest benefit is the overall connection with the individual that I am matched with,” says Kline. “It makes me feel like my art has a purpose, a different type of purpose than I normally may focus on. Art is a very selfish thing, usually, you know. It is always about the artist’s viewpoint on anything, and this program forces me to create art that is about the subject and their viewpoint and what they have experienced. It’s all about the survivor, not me. My art then becomes more of an act of giving. It takes me outside of myself. Everyone seeks a purpose, I think, especially artists in their work. That is why this is such an important event to be involved with as an artist and I would encourage any artist to be a part of this.”

Brushes with Cancer has been pairing artists with those touched by cancer for three years now in three cities with plans to expand even more. Each participant has a unique experience and many have built long-term friendships from the pairing. But the most important result of the program is the experience from the connection that occurs. As the subject tells their story, and the artist reflects it, both are able to have a positive growing experience. Bowen adds, “What I would tell people is that it is an outstanding opportunity to further your creative side as an artist and push yourself in a way where you can really learn something different. Brushes has taught me to actually love every moment of your life. Listening to the stories of how people have beat cancer or are living with it… [he pauses]… it is incredibly inspiring. Being a part of this community has really helped me come out of my shell and shown me that there are some good things in the world. Some really amazing things in this world.”

Twist Out Cancer- A Retaliation to Shame

On November 19th, Founder and Executive Director of Twist Out Cancer Jenna Benn Shersher spoke to 150 attendees at the inaugural Brushes with Cancer event in Toronto, Canada.

Below is Jenna’s speech from the event.

It is an honor and a privilege to be here.

Coming back to Canada- in many ways feels like I am coming home. There are many of you in the room tonight that I have known since I was 17 years old, when I made the brave and bold decision to cross that border- and immerse myself in Quebecois culture.

It feel as if I am amongst family tonight- so thank you for the warm welcome.

Nearly 5 years ago, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects less than 200 people in world.

In the months that followed my diagnosis, I was given the unique opportunity to bear witness to my own funeral.

I watched those closest to me mourn what seemed like an imminent passing

I saw them try to come to terms with how someone so young, could be taken so soon.

And I started to hear about how my life had in some way made an impact.

Before cancer, I was a 29 year old searching for fulfillment. I had hoped to fall in love, imagined what it would be like to lay roots, and dreamed about one day building a family.

Fighting a rare type of cancer, as a young adult- throws your hopes and dreams into a state of delirium.  As my experiences became distilled into a series of cherished moments- I became keenly aware that I was on borrowed time.

My life as I knew it was on hold.

As I learned to exist in this holding pattern, I also started to notice how young adults with cancer had a unique set of needs that simply were not being met.

As I fought a cancer that was so rare, I had limited options of where I could turn to get the support and assurance that I needed. I wanted to be able to connect with others that had experienced what it was like to face their own mortality. I wanted to be told that I would not only survive, but that I would thrive.

As a young adult, there was no one I could talk to about the catastrophic impact chemotherapy could have on my eggs and ovaries. Not only was cancer killing me, but it was killing my ability to one day have children.

Why was no one talking about this?

As my treatment progressed, and my immune system became further compromised, I found myself increasingly lonely and isolated. I no longer related to the family and friends that had known me for years, but rather sought refuge online amongst a community that I had unknowingly built. It was this community where I found love, support and understanding. It was this community that allowed me to process the gravity of my situation. It was this community that allowed me to eventually heal.

When we refuse to speak about what’s hard- we aren’t being honest. And it is the silence that eventually turns into shame.

I was 29 years old, unsure if I was going to live or die, and I was riddled with shame.

It was a shame that tried to paralyze me, but instead inspired me.

Twist Out Cancer in many ways a battle cry- it is retaliation to that shame.

As I wrote in my blog throughout the many months of treatment, I found that when I shared the world opened up.

I wrote about the hard.

I wrote about the truth.

I wrote about the shame.

And in doing so- I connected with many of you. Old friends and new friends. Friends that have become like family.

 When I finished treatment, I was determined to shed light on the unique set of psychosocial issues and circumstances that face the young adult population fighting cancer. And I was determined to give voice to the voiceless who had been stifled by a cancer diagnosis. It was the quiet, the tendency to retreat, and the shame that really rattled me.  Imagine if more people came forward with their story, if more people came forward with their needs, and if there was a space to harness and celebrate creativity.  We all need an outlet, a safe space to share our twist on cancer. This was the community that I was determined to create and is currently being built right here in Canada.

The launch of the Twist Out Cancer Canadian Chapter is a major milestone. My ability to tiptoe out of the shadows, out of the grey zone- and into the light would never have happened without Dan Hadad. Dan’s passion and drive to share Twist with Canada is why we are all here tonight. It is his vision, his hopes- and his dreams that have brought us here tonight.

I am incredibly indebted to you my friend- you provided me with incredible support and love during a very dark period of time. The  cancer community in Canada is so lucky to have you at the helm, leading us and encouraging us to share our twists on cancer.

The program Brushes with Cancer was born 4 years ago in Chicago, when Anna Swarthout, a fellow grey zone lymphoma survivor that I had mentored put out a challenge asking the community to create a unique piece of artwork not using the shade of grey because that was all that she was seeing. In the midst of chemotherapy, Anna bravely made the call- and the community answered. Within days we had murals painted in Switzerland, sculptures created in Toronto, dances choreographed in harlem. The community was coming together to support Anna.

When Anna shared- the world opened up- and it was up to us to listen.

Brushes with cancer matches those touched by cancer with an artist that is charged with creating a unique piece of artwork reflective of their journey with cancer.

To honor my 5 year cancerversary, I chose to participate for the first time in Brushes with Cancer- as a subject. My artist, Aviad Herman, is an Israeli dancer and designer living in Sweden. As I embarked on this process, I found myself opening up about aspects of my life that I had never spoken about. Aviad and I connected over skype- by email, and on facebook messenger. The thousands of miles and experiences that separated us, became irrelevant. Technology had enabled us to connect in a meaningful way. Unsure of where our conversations would lead, I was admittedly nervous. What did I want to share with him, that others may not know. When you are so public about your experiences with cancer, its hard to figure out what is new or unique. 61/2 months ago, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter named Noa Pearl. Noa is for all intensive purposes a miracle. My husband and I still look at her in awe of how she made it into this world. As I have transitioned into my role of parent- I have found myself much more protective of my online profile, and what I choose to share with the public. Aviad made me feel safe. He found a way to ask me questions that no one else had asked. He showed a genuine interest in understanding my pain, my struggles, my triumphs and my strengths.

It was only when Aviad presented his artwork that I was fully able to understand the time, effort and love he put into this project. He approached Brushes with Cancer not as another artistic venture, but as an opportunity to connect, learn, support and inspire.

Brushes with Cancer creates unexpected intersections, and connections, creating a system of support no matter where you are at in your journey.

I cannot think of a better way to honor where where I have been, and where I currently am. Aviad-  you will always hold a special place in my heart.

I want to thank the incredible host committee, subjects and artists that shared their passion, time, experiences and talents with us- we are so grateful for your participation and we hope this is only the beginning.

Thank you for being here tonight.

Thank you for making yourselves vulnerable.

And thank you for allowing the world to open up.





Twist Out Cancer Launches Canadian Chapter with Inaugural Event Brushes with Cancer

On Thursday, November 19th, 150 attendees attended Brushes with Cancer, which served as the official launch ofTwist Out Cancer’s  Canadian Chapter. 22 artists were matched with 22 individuals touched by cancer. This unique program celebrates survivorship and hope. Over a four month period,  individuals touched by cancer (previvors, survivors and caregivers) are paired with talented artists working in a variety of mediums. The subjects share their unique twists on cancer- their stories, feelings and experiences with the artists, which serves as the inspiration for the art. This collaborative process culminates with a celebratory fundraiser showcasing the power of storytelling.

Spearheaded by Dan Hadad, Twist Out Cancer Board Chair, over 60 people directly involved in the program.

A special thank you to April Gibson, Chad Rogers, Chrstina Gelinas, Dan Hadad, Daniel Fricker, Erin Cohen, Jamie Ellerton, Jenna Benn Shersher, Ji. Djennas, Noah Kochman, Paul Tyre, Ryla Braemer, Samantha Banks, Sarina Rehal, Sharon Marcushamer and Shirelle Segal for your passion and commitment to bringing this program to life.

You can view the artwork at the Richmond Gallery  on November 20,21 and 22nd.

To learn more,  checkout the Brushes with Cancer TO program book that features stories the participants stories of strength and creativity.


Spotlight on David Turok, Brushes with Cancer Featured Artist


I have always felt that my art needs to tell a collaborative story. My typical paintings include collaborations with children in a collection called “#kidcollab”.  Babies and toddlers will finger-paint on a canvas, and with their parents, I will create a painting on top of their an abstract background that tells a story- a deceased grandparent, the artist of the couple’s first dance, etc.  The result is a timeless art piece.

When Jonny Imerman of Imerman’s angels introduced me to Jenna and the Brushes with Cancer event, I knew it would be right up my alley.    I did not however, foresee just how powerful the connection with someone affected by cancer could be.  I was paired with Ashley, and she told me all about her dad, Doug, and what she learned from him before he passed away.  With both my sister and my wife, I have seen how close a father-daughter bond can be.  It seemed so unfair that Ashley’s relationship was cut short.  When Ashley told me that “Piano Man” was the song they had together, it became obvious that this would be the focus of our piece.  I sort of pictured the song as being their first dance at Ashley’s wedding.  The bright colors and energy in the piece represent the way that Ashley told me her father lived his life.  I only hope I did him justice.

The entire experience with the Brushes with Cancer so far has been amazing.   Jenna is extremely organized and helpful.  I am looking forward to attending my first Brushes with Cancer event and look forward to participating for years to come.

-David Turok

Instagram: @drt_art


To bid on David’s artwork check out the Brushes with Cancer online auction.