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 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.

Brushes with Cancer Featured Artist: Bowen Kline

Bowen Kline knows how to capture the beauty that is buried within hardship.

Ever since I met Bowen this past October I knew he would be the perfect fit for Brushes with Cancer. Bowen dives into his work heart first. He immerses himself completely in the experience and creates with a raw honesty that is hard to describe.


Bowen Kline is a Southfield native with a national reputation as one of the country’s finest artists. He is self-taught, and his works are held in private collections nationwide, and in Michigan in Artspace II in Birmingham, in Grand Rapids and Oak Park. Today, Kline makes his home in Romeo and is especially known for his expressive portraits and nudes.

Kline’s extraordinary works both reveal his own heart and speak to and of different cultures and identities. His paintings show isolation and loneliness, but also hope and wonder. From his picture showing a man, suitcases in hand, headed to a stark house, to his poignant “Pleading Woman,” filled with deep, heavy strokes that reveal an anguish too mournful for words, Kline creates art that is fresh, daring, unforgettable. “I’ve spent the better part of my life in a small room with a lamp with no shade, trying to figure out who I am,” he said. “I’ve never been called the ‘great communicator.’ My voice is heard through my paintings.  My work is an extension of myself, what I see and experience.


To meet Bowen- check out Brushes with Cancer on April 10, 2014. Tickets are now on sale.


Through Sharing Comes Hope.

This past weekend 550 young adult cancer survivors, supporters, caregivers and loved ones gathered in Las Vegas to listen, learn, support, and grow.

Our hope was coupled with fear.

Our strength was coupled with fragility.

Our honesty was coupled with insecurity.

While cancer may have been the reason we were brought together- she was also responsible for tearing us apart.

Are you in treatment?

Are you in remission?

Have you had recurrence?

Are you cured?

We were labeling, categorizing, and inevitably separating each other into manageable groups.

And as we seperated this disease into her many shades of grey- it became apparent that it was the desire to live, the desire to make change, the desire to live in spite of Cancer that united us, that guided us, and instilled a sense of community and hope amongst a sea of strangers.

As we were repeatedly stripped down to our most vulnerable selves, we confronted our darkest fears, and tiptoed into our hopes and dreams.

The same disease that left my body after 2 rounds of chemotherapy, took a brother at the age of 34, and a daughter at the age of 26.

The same disease that brought me strength and clarity, caused others repeated pain, devastation and hardship.

It was one conference but not one voice.

It was one disease but not one outcome.

It was one journey but not one story.

As a young adult cancer survivor it is my hope that we continue to share our stories, continue to share our voice, and continue to give a face to cancer.

Through sharing comes strength, through sharing comes bravery, through sharing comes community, and through sharing comes hope.

I hope you will join me.

Meet Noreen

This past spring I had the pleasure of meeting darling Noreen. Noreen had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and she was referred to me through our oncologist Dr. Leo Gordon. At that time I was just a few steps ahead of Noreen. I had recently finished treatment and was slowly tiptoing out of the shadows.  As I was trying to reacclimate, Noreen was saying goodbye to her sense of normalcy and doing her best to embrace her new reality. Noreen and I connected over our love for dance, our fascination with the ridiculous, and our strong belief in holding on to hope.

Noreen was my first tiny twister- who happened to tower over me by 1/2 a foot.  After her first round of chemotherapy, Noreen and I went to North Avenue Beach and twisted out cancer.

Noreen is and was a fighter in all senses of the word. Cancer unlocked her creativity, allowed her to access parts of herself that had become quieted, and perhaps most importantly allowed her to appreciate life in a new and profound way.

Here is Noreen’s twist on cancer.

I am a survivor. That has a nice little ring to it doesn’t it?! On the eve of my first follow-up CT-scan post chemo, I am healthy, young and a hopeful Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor. In May 2011, I learned that the start of my 31 years of life would be filled with cancer.  From the moment of being told I had cancer, to the 6 months of chemotherapy, and to the ever so interesting life of post treatment and the ongoing phase of recovery, the feeling of shock and disbelief never left.  As a high-energy, constant life on the go kind of gal that I am that is completely devoted to family, friends and my career, I never let cancer take control of my life.  I worked full-time throughout treatment, I lived my life like a 31 year old should. I laughed, I danced, and I continued to fight everyday. I blogged about my journey and found that it was a great release and allowed me to keep my friends and family updated.  In my everyday life, I lived in the black and white.  There was never a doubt that I wasn’t going to beat cancer.  I did what I had to do to survive.  But as I blogged, it was my moment to live in the grey.  I exposed my fears, my uncertainties, but managed to showed people I was strong. My low moments brought on tears, hopelessness, fears, isolation and the feeling of being lost.  I soon learned that greatest gift that was ever given to me was cancer.  I know that is crazy to say but I have learned so much more than some may learn in their lifetime.  I was given the opportunity to evaluate what was important to me in life.  I saw different layers of beauty in people, my world and my soul.  My family and friends lifted me up everyday.  I made a promise to myself to slow down and smell the roses.  I take a moment everyday to look at the sky and absorb the beauty and the ever-changing masterpiece the earth creates everyday.  I close my eyes and take deep breaths and savor each breath that enters and escapes my body.  I am alive today.  I am real. I am grateful and loved. I am a real human.  And I couldn’t ask for anything more.

A Chanukah Miracle

It was a year ago today that I decided to undergo fertility preservation at Northwestern University’s Oncofertility Consortium.

At the time of my initial diagnosis, when I heard those three words, I remember feeling completely helpless and out of control.

I was slowly being suffocated by the weight of cancer.

During what felt like a period of complete paralysis, I was desperately trying to find ways to regain a sense of normalcy, purpose and control. I wanted to be a part of the decision making process. I wanted to have a voice.

As a young adult facing a cancer diagnosis- I learned very quickly that my fertility may be significantly affected by chemotherapy.

While I knew that cancer was going to rob me of many things, I was unwilling to let this disease rob me of my ability to have children.

Before my official diagnosis and regimen were finalized, I had already started the paper work to preserve my fertility.

This decision, significantly affected the way I chose to fight cancer.
From the very beginning I was already thinking about life after cancer. Choosing to protect my fertility allowed me to hold on to hope- and without hope I would not have survived.

Over the last 12 months I have been involved in a very painful appeals process with my insurance company to try to prove that I needed and deserved these treatments.

Preserving my fertility was not a luxury-but a necessity.

The research was clear- there was a strong likelihood that my chemotherapy regimen would significantly and perhaps permanently damage my ovaries.
After months of fighting for my life, there was the possibility that I would be rendered sterile.

Having to repeatedly plead with my insurance company to consider my needs- was excruciating.

I was screaming – but no one was listening.

Two days ago I received the news that the initial decision was overturned- and that my fertility preservation would now be covered by insurance.

It was a Chanukah miracle.

Instead of retreating- I chose to scream louder. Instead of accepting defeat- I chose to push harder.

I share this piece of my cancer journey with you because we shouldn’t be whispering about fertility- but screaming about it. It’s outrageous to have to prove that these treatments are not a luxury but a necessity. It’s outrageous that young adult patients are not being told about their options when they are initially diagnosed or shortly thereafter. And its outrageous that there is a silent stigma attached to women that have no choice but to seek fertility options.

I can only hope that my story-will one day help the lives of other young adult cancer patients- who should be focusing their energy on fighting to live -as opposed to fighting to receive coverage.

It’s time to cause a commotion.
Its time to start educating.
It’s time to start mobilizing.

Who’s joining me?


Northwestern’s Oncoferility Consortium- Gives Hope to Young Adults Surviving Cancer

For young adult patients (ages 18-40) who are in the prime of their life-a Cancer diagnosis can dramatically impact their trajectory in unique and specific ways.  This demographic in particular has the misfortune of having to consider how Cancer treatment wil affect their fertility.

Historically, the medical field has focused their efforts on treating the disease, and has not spent enough time considering the individual as a whole.  Young adult Cancer survivors who are about to undergo treatment deserve to know the facts, deserve to know their odds, deserve to know what life can look like after Cancer.

I would argue that understanding how your fertility will be affected, and what options are available, is just as important as understanding your Cancer diagnosis and course of treatment. For young adult survivors, it is critical that fertility be discussed during the initial conversations with your primary care physician and/or oncologist.

Northwestern University’s Oncofertility Consortium, spearheaded by the brilliant Teresa Woodruff, provides young adult Cancer patients with the necessary hope that there is life after Cancer.  Teresa and her team of experts are providing survivors with critical tools and resources for how to bring life into the world.

I am incredibly indebted to Northwestern University’s Oncofertility Consortium. I wholeheartedly believe that in learning about my risks and options, I was given the hope I needed to fight this disease.

I recently attended the Oncofertility Consortium’s 5- year gala where they premiered a short documentary showcasing their remarkable work.  Featured in the film are leading reproductive specialists, oncologists and patients who have chosen to take their fertility into their own hands.  It was an honor to be apart of this project ,and I feel incredibly grateful to be apart of this beautiful community.

To learn more about the Oncofertility Consortium’s work


If you are a young adult survivor (ages 18-44) and are within 3 years of diagnosis- please consider registering with Northwestern’s First Registry- a research study that is investigating the reproductive impact of cancer treatments on women.  To learn more go to

A special thank you to Kristin Smith who helped guide me through this entire process. I do not know what I would have done without you. Thank you for your professionalism, your guidance, and your friendship.