Meet Rika Cargill, 36 – “The Fighter”

            Rika was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in August 2012. Unfortunately, Rika wasn’t a stranger to this horrible disease. She lost both her mother and grandmother to breast cancer and her father to prostate cancer. Rika decided to fight because she didn’t have an option to give up for three very special reasons.

“Motherhood made it worth the fight,” says Rika.

She is a mother of three and not only on a mission for them, but for those who can no longer contend. Rika connected to Brushes With Cancer through artist, Jessica Bond Montalbano, and her work at previous events. Her “twist” on cancer is to be present and enjoy time with your family and friends. Losing her loved ones didn’t generate a resentful outlook; rather it made Rika even more grateful. Cancer shaped the trajectory of her life in positive ways she never deemed possible.

Her cancer journey fostered a more patient, concerned, and loving mother. She relishes every single moment with her children. Having this disease, also called for open lines of communication with her children. It’s created a platform for dialogue and those tough conversations, which need to take place. She’s learned to embrace change and encourage her family to as well.

If there is one takeaway we can all learn from Rika, it’s through her message.

            “It’s good to live in the moment than not to live at all.”

-Rika Cargill

Mother, Fighter, Survivor, Inspiration

*Blog entry submitted by Courtney Anixter


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 Sivan Schondorf, Brushes with Cancer Subject and Previvor


Jenna and I were both performers together in high school. Our paths didn’t cross again until I heard of her cancer journey, struggles, and success around the same time I was deeply immersed in my own unique type of cancer journey.

I’ve not actually had cancer…not yet. And I hope not ever. But fifteen years ago, my family was given the news that many of us were carriers of the BRCA 1 mutation. My Aunt Linda, the catalyst for testing, passed away by age 49, and my mother and other relatives took measures to prevent the suffering and death my Aunt experienced. Five years later, as I turned 24, I took the test to find out my fate: POSITIVE for a deleterious genetic mutation. If I didn’t one day remove my breasts and ovaries I would most likely get breast and ovarian cancer. And it would be more aggressive and less treatable than other common breast cancers.

My world didn’t come tumbling down over this news. It didn’t change at all in fact, or at least I wasn’t ready to acknowledge how much my life really would be different. But several years later, after countless pelvic ultrasounds, breast MRI’s, mammograms, clinical exams, breast ultrasounds, and blood tests, I was ready to take the next steps. I thought about hearing the words, “you have cancer” every time I went in for a routine exam and I felt that I needed to do something proactive. I was a ticking time bomb! Before my 28th birthday, even earlier than the medically recommended age, I underwent a preventative, nipple-sparing, double mastectomy with implants and reconstruction, and I have never been more at peace with a decision.

What’s so important about knowing family history and genetic information is that it gives you a special key that many people don’t get. I got a chance to look ahead at my impending future with cancer and reduce my risk. For that, I am so grateful and lucky. However, my journey is not yet over. Besides my increasing risk of ovarian cancer and another inevitable surgery, lies the question of what will become of my children’s future. Carrying a mutation is a multi-generational issue filled with grief, loss, worry, and also feelings of stronger kinship and common understanding.

I’m thrilled and humbled to be part of Brushes With Cancer. I hope that through my artist’s work and message, we can reach those who don’t yet know about hereditary cancer, those who think they might be at risk, and those who quietly carry this information feeling alone in the world. My wish is that with more awareness, support, and research, there will be better methods for cancer prevention and treatments for future generations.