August Spree Reflects on Her Experience with Brushes with Cancer

It was a breezy April evening, and I happened to get a ticket from a co-worker to an event called “Brushes with Cancer” that started right after work. Without having any idea what to expect, I walked the six blocks or so to the event. It had been 10 years since my first cancer diagnosis and only a couple months since a recurrence scare. In addition to being a cancer survivor myself, my grandmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer a few years after my experience, and she passed away only 10 months later. I was eager to be connected within the cancer community.

As I observed the event throughout the evening, my heart was touched and I remember thinking, “What is this? This artwork is so amazing. How did they do all this?” as I walked around the venue reading the stories next to each work of art and each individual story. I asked one of the artists who was responsible for all this and he pointed me in the direction of Jenna. When I found a moment to introduce myself to her, I jokingly said, “My name is August, I am a cancer survivor, and we are going to be friends!” and she very graciously laughed and agreed to have coffee with me soon.

We sat down over coffee and shared pieces of our stories and I asked, “How can I be involved?” The poignancy of this program, creating beauty from pain using art, touched my soul on a deeper level than I was even able to express at that time. This was what I had been looking for within the cancer community; a way to be involved in something personal, something creative, something with a healing quality. Jenna talked to me about her vision for the organization and I couldn’t have been more excited. I called a friend as I walked through the city back towards my apartment: “My life has just been changed, I know it.” I told her.

Over the next two years, I told everyone I knew about Twist Out Cancer. I began recruiting my closest friends, family and even acquaintances to be involved with the Brushes with Cancer program. And then, one day after a phone call, Jenna suggested I participate as an Inspiration in the 2014 Brushes program.

After being accepted and receiving my artist match, I was nervous. As we exchanged emails, I knew I would have to dig deep and talk about things that I hadn’t talked about for a long time. But I was also excited to have the opportunity to share my journey with someone who would then create something beautiful from it.

My artist and I met for coffee on a Sunday evening just before Thanksgiving and he was engaging and interested in knowing every piece of my story. We spent 5 hours together sharing pieces of ourselves and I found a liberty in being able to talk about some of the things I was unable to share with my loved ones when I was going through my diagnosis. We agreed to meet weekly after that to continue getting to know each other. He shared bits of himself with me just as much as I shared with him.

With my artist, I could talk about how I thought I was going to faint when the doctor told me the biopsy results, how I felt my baby kicking in my belly while I struggled to make my way back to my car after that appointment (I was 8 months pregnant at the time of diagnosis), how I felt guilty that I didn’t have the strength to call my best friend and tell her so I sent her an email instead, and so many other things. I was able to lay out all of my journey, the fears, the struggles, and the victories, without judgment, criticism or emotional reaction. And while I shared, I could feel myself coming to terms with my own experiences.

After 4 months, the exhibition and gala was in Chicago and he had kept his art creation a secret from me. When I walked in to the event, I saw the beautiful sculpture in person for the first time – a piece he titled “The Dance”, and I wept. That experience helped me to heal in ways I wasn’t even aware that I still needed, and since then I have spent my energy on encouraging others to participate.

Having experienced cancer as a survivor and also as a caregiver, I am even more passionate about what Brushes with Cancer offers to those who choose to participate.

Since that initial experience in Brushes with Cancer, my artist and I have become partners in many ways and we now live together in Michigan. That first night when I walked into the Brushes with Cancer event, I knew my life had changed but I had no way of knowing just how much. From growth and healing through the Brushes program, to the expansion of my heart and new love, to becoming an Executive Board Member and ambassador of Twist Out Cancer and the Brushes with Cancer program, my life has been altered in the best possible ways because of this experience.

What the Brushes with Cancer program offers is a chance to express pieces of your journey with cancer that may be unexpressed or unfelt. It offers a chance to connect with a stranger and realize that we are all so much more similar than we are different. It offers a chance to see that from so much pain, beauty can still grow. And it offers a chance to be part of a strong and supportive community of people who understand what you’ve been through. Sometimes it seems like we are all so divided these days, and this gives people a chance to be vulnerable together, see another human for their experiences and who they are instead of assuming we already know, and then, after all of that, it gives each pair a chance to look at the dark experience through new eyes with a new light and pull from it the threads of beauty and strength that will be added to the tapestry of the life of everyone who interacts with them.

 

Twist Out Cancer presents a Brushes with Cancer Artist Profile: Igal Fedida

 

“Whoever saves a life saves the world.” -Talmud text translation

Igal happened to meet Twist Out Cancer Founder and Executive Director, Jenna Benn Shersher
at one of his art exhibitions in Philadelphia during the summer of 2017. Once he learned about
her story and the impact of the Twist community, he wanted to want to contribute to Brushes
with Cancer. “I have a gift and I need to share it with the world. I believe we are capable of
recreating ourselves as human beings at any moment in time.” Twist was launching Brushes
with Cancer Tel Aviv and Jenna invited Igal to participate as an artist. Israeli born, Igal was delighted at the opportunity to travel to his homeland and collaborate with a local cancer survivor. “I usually seek inspiration from biblical and poetic texts and embrace metaphysical theory and the cosmos in creating my work. I was paired with an amazing young
lady named Stav who used every fiber of courage, intelligence and spirituality to fight back and
hold onto life.” Stav’s life and story provided Igal a new context for inspiring his art. Her struggle
and determination to find joy and beauty drove Igal to create “Circle of Life.”

The Twist out Cancer global community knows the universality of grief and struggle. “I believe
that everything happens for a reason.” Igal was grieving the sudden and tragic loss of his
brother months earlier, and was able to integrate his emotional journey into the creative
process.
As an artist, Igal described feeling challenged by the experience. “I felt hesitant by the structure
and pressure to abide by a timeline. I don’t plan what I paint, I close my eyes and some
unseen force drives my brush, and when I am finished, I open my eyes in awe of what
present was given to me. At the Art Exhibit and Gala in Tel Aviv, Stav introduced her mother
and family to Igal and unveiled “Circle of Life.” Igal recalls the powerful moment: “I could see
their faces filled with light as their eyes surveyed my work and it proved to me that our
connection was worthwhile.”

Twist relies on profoundly talented artists, like Igal, to serve our brave patients, previvors,
survivors and caregivers. “I would tell artists who choose to participate to meet with their match
without an agenda. Just listen to the person’s story as a human being. If you talk you cannot
hear the story.”

Igal Fedida will participate as an artist in the Brushes with Cancer Chicago 2018 program. To
hear his inspirations story and see his unique art reflective of the cancer journey join us!

Brushes with Cancer Chicago 2018

Art Exhibit and Gala
November 3, 2018
Chez-Chicago, 247 E. Ontario, Chicago, Illinois.

Igal Fedida, works in metal, glass, stone, glass and canvas. His collections are available at his
gallery, on exhibition and online.
Igal Fedida
1406 Las Olas Blvd.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

“I was surprised at how deep it could get.”

Ishita Banerjee, Artist

Ishita, a thyroid cancer survivor battled feelings of isolation through her diagnosis and treatment. She successfully launched a career as an artist, rediscovering joy and navigating depression. A friend of Twist Out Cancer purchased one of her gallery pieces and she was invited to participate in the 2018 program. Ishita, without hesitation, embraced the opportunity as an artist.  She felt it was the perfect way for her to give back after receiving endless support during her cancer battle.

Virginia Champoux, Inspiration

As a breast cancer survivor and widow, Virginia learned to be an open advocate for patients and their families. She sought out unique opportunities to share her experience and talents, connecting with numerous organizations. When a Facebook friend tagged her in a Twist Out Cancer post, she learned about Brushes with Cancer and applied to participate as an Inspiration.  Virginia was open to sharing her story but skeptical about who she might be paired with and what kind of art would emerge.

The Journey

Ishita and Virginia were matched by the program, and over the next months, met in person and by phone. A vibrant connection between them quickly blossomed. Virginia was delighted to find that Ishita’s artistic style matched her taste with elements of Scandinavian design and Mid-century themes. Both mothers, professionals and survivors they found a way to share, connect and heal. The two had long conversations about their grief and fears, but also shared powerful moments of laughter and hope.

Fueled by the new friendship, Ishita started with a sketch and quickly completed an original work that thoughtfully represented Virginia’s story.  “As an artist, I can tell that Virginia’s story will stay with me forever. Participating in Brushes has been a life-changing event. I know that I will always seek her support and advice and that we will be friends for life. I aspire to be her.”

“I was surprised at how deep it could get,” Virginia said. She showed her daughter the artwork and was moved when she immediately recognized the imagery as her own family’s story.

The pair look forward to the unveiling of the piece on May 10th and learning the stories of others in the program. Ishita’s mother will travel from India to attend the event and Virginia will be accompanied by her children.

As a Brushes with Cancer Inspiration, Virginia describes the experience as, “a chance to make something beautiful out of something ugly and difficult.”

Twist Out Cancer is proud to bring Brushes with Cancer to Montreal and we invite you to join us May 10 at the Rialto Theatre. Brushes with Cancer provides psychosocial 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.

Twist Out Cancer paired 23 artists with 23 survivors, previvors, and caregivers, and challenged the artists to create original works of art influenced by their inspirations unique “twists” on cancer. Over the last six months, our pairs have been working closely together. These unexpected relationships developed into systems of support and a place for healing. The artwork honors the inspirations’ experiences with cancer but it also celebrates the new relationship that has since developed. We honor their journeys and celebrate the importance of storytelling and utilizing the arts as a mechanism for healing.

To Purchase Tickets to Brushes with Cancer : www.brusheswithcancermontreal.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judi and Irit: A Blossoming Friendship

 How did you become involved with Twist Out Cancer (TOC) and specifically, Brushes with Cancer? Can you tell us about any special meaning that your participation has held for you?

Judi:  If I remember correctly, I happened to see a post about it in a Facebook cancer group online but I don’t remember which one. To me, the idea that an artist will create something inspired by me and what I’d been through is so overwhelming and such a privilege. To share this journey with others is truly incredible.

Irit: For the last few years I have been looking for an organization to volunteer with. When I heard about Brushes with Cancer, I was immediately drawn to this special effort. I lost my young niece, Lital, to cancer a few years ago.  I am a true believer in emotional and spiritual therapy through art; working with Judi was a very meaningful experience for me.

Getting to know Judi was very impactful for me. She is a real fighter.  I admire Judi. Judi and I discovered that we both love and are fascinated by the ancient worlds, and especially ancient Egypt. As an artist I’ve been exploring Egyptian influences on my art, especially in the last two years. I read Judi final work for her B.A. ,which dealt with death in ancient Egypt. We discussed life in Egyptian times and the way they handled death, we had long and meaningful conversations about this.

What were you hoping to give and/or receive from the program?

Judi: I was hoping to share my experience, to grow, learn and heal. I was hoping to meet and learn from other survivors. The feeling that I am not alone is healing and inspiring.

Irit: Mostly I hoped to give Judi a lot of attention, to hug her and feel her in my heart. I wanted to see how our meetings and conversations have influenced my narrative art in lines, colors shapes and forms. I am excited to see my relationship with Judi has led both of us on a special adventure.

What most surprised you about your experience in the program?

Judi: I guess I was surprised by the immediate connection I felt with Irit. I felt so comfortable with her right away. And I knew I could trust her to create something real and true.

Irit: The most surprising thing was that through this work I felt emotional difficulties and I was surrounded by images that I really wanted to ignore. All of a sudden, I realized that the work I did during this period (scratching, etching and engraving on cork and wood) described the topic and was accompanied by ancient symbols from Egypt’s life. This work is dedicated to Judi and will be given to her, as a present and I’ll donate another piece of work to Brushes With Cancer that I made during this time. Judi was a strong inspiration for both works.

What are you most looking forward to at the big event?

Judi: I am really looking forward to seeing what all the artists have created. We all have different stories and it’s going to be amazing to see what each artist created on this journey.

Irit: My expectation is that this piece of art will be sold for a high price which will increase my donation to the organization.

What advice would you give prospective participants who are interested in getting involved?

Judi: I would say to future participants to feel free and honest with yourself. Believe that this journey can heal, inspire and give strength to keep being strong and proud of yourself.

Irit: The advice that I would give to prospective participants is to allow themselves the adventure of giving to others. The opening themselves up and the “give and get” processing can add a lot to their personal development.

 

 

Judi Hetzroni

Irit Bahalul

 Tickets are now on sale for Brushes with Cancer Tel Aviv. To learn information on the program and upcoming art exhibition and celebratory event, please check out our event website for fufther details.

Meet Judy and Nir- An Unexpected Friendship

Nir and Judy might never have crossed paths had they not been paired through Brushes with Cancer, and yet as soon as the connection was made, a journey of friendship and openness began. Nir, an extraordinary young Israeli dancer, happened to cross paths with Alona, the chair of Brushes with Cancer in Tel Aviv, and was immediately convinced that this was the platform for sharing her story.

Judy, a talented artist, heard about the program through conversation with her daughter, who has worked with Twist out Cancer in the past. And so, two separate paths converged and the bond of Artist and Inspiration was formed. Judy and Nir both agreed to offer a small taste of their journey prior to the unveiling of the final art piece at Brushes With Cancer in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, March 13.  We are so grateful to be able to share this amazing story of their experiences with Brushes With Cancer.

How did you feel compelled to participate in the program? What motivated you to be part of this journey?

Nir

“Being a dance and a performance artist and having my body and soul go through so much in the past four years, as a result of being diagnosed and treated for cancer three times, I felt so inspired to enter this process and this story as a material for an art piece. For me, dealing with breast cancer and all the body-mind-spirit alterations that goes along with, made me feel as if my very being, my body, my mind, my identity and personality are all some kind of material that keeps changing, being designed, played with, altered, danced with by outside and inside forces. It made me feel like myself and my life are fluid and flexible as if it was some kind of material or art piece that is in an unending creation process that is comprised of the ongoing interaction and synthesis between constantly changing me and constantly changing and unexpected circumstances. For these reasons I had a growing need to bring forth the intensity of this experience and the different views on life, on myself and my relationship with the world that resulted from this, and try to communicate to other people, to another artist and to myself- through art.”

Judy

“I felt compelled to participate in the program as I feel its goals are so important. I have done art programs with cancer patients in the past, and have a number of friends who have had cancer. The goal of building a personal connection with someone was appealing to me.”

What has the storytelling process been like for you so far? What has been your creative process been like?

Nir

“It’s been more like a mutual sharing process. We share our stories, we get to know each other. It’s become very quickly much more about the human connection and bond between us than anything else. But still, telling the story keeps revealing it to me in new ways, it’s like re-learning it, understanding and seeing it in even more new ways and in new light.”

Judy

“Initially the connecting process was quite difficult as Nir was still going through treatment. However after our first meeting I knew that I had met a truly unique and inspiring person who I wanted to get to know. My creative process is difficult to describe. I am constantly thinking about this project and wondering how to translate all of this into a meaningful piece of art. My making sketches, painting fabric and trying out different ideas. My medium is textiles, which is a bit more challenging. I also  prefer abstract rather than realistic art, which makes the artwork more difficult for a viewer to understand.”

What were you most nervous about regarding the process?

Nir

“I was nervous about what would happen if we didn’t click, or that maybe my experiences and views will be too much to take in, or that there will be some taboos, or that we will have an extremely different artistic taste. Also about letting go of my story (or the story of our meeting) to become a piece of art in someone else’s hands that I have no direct influence on.”

Judy

“I was most nervous about my ability to do justice to this amazing woman and her story.”

What are you most looking forward to?

Nir

“Of course to see the final artwork! But also to be a part of the first event in Israel. To be in the company of all the wonderful people that shared their time, stories, and their art in order to make this project happen. I look forward to sharing the artwork and the experience with my family and friends and whoever else will come to see or hear about the project.  Also to continue to be in touch with Judy outside the boundaries of the project and to continue to share experiences together.”

Judy

“I am looking forward to my continuing relationship with Nir. I feel that we have a lot to learn from each other, and we just have a good time being together.”

Is there anything else you would like to share/pass on?

Nir

“I would like to share that I think Brushes with Cancer is an extremely important project  because it takes the story of dealing with cancer – all its pain, fear, confusion, beauty, complexity, and life changing experiences – and makes it into soil, into fertile ground, into the  very seeds of a new creation in the world. I think that there is no better and healing way to experience ourselves and the meaning of our experiences than by sharing them.”

Judy

“However the final art piece turns out, I feel honored to be part of this unique process. It is a project I would like to continue participating in.”  This connection, and the others made through Brushes With Cancer, is what this project is all about. The ability to form unexpected connections, unbreakable bonds, and unparalleled platforms to share powerful experiences.

For more information on Brushes with Cancer Tel Aviv please check out our website. The first annual art exhibition and gala will take place on Tuesday, March 13th at Beit Andromeda in Jaffa, Israel.

This interview was written by Jacquie Zaluda, freelance writer and Brushes with Cancer Tel Aviv Host Committee Member. Check out Jacquie’s website to read more about her and her work.  

Meet Jacqueline Carmody, Brushes with Cancer Artist & Twist Out Cancer Board Member

About Jacqueline Carmody

Jacqueline Carmody is an Art Therapist based at the  Art Therapy Studio Chicago, LTD in Wicker Park. She also works as a freelance artist with the Fulton Street Collective and is currently working from home studio in Roscoe Village.Jacqueline uses art as a platform for communication and self-expression. She was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and attended Western Michigan University for undergrad. She began studying painting in the Gwen Frostic School of Fine Arts, but quickly realized that the competitive art environment did not feel natural.  Jacqueline knew there was another path to share her artistic skills and sought out an art therapist as a mentor. Jacqueline graduated undergrad with a bachelors in Psychology and BFA in painting. She went directly into graduate school at Adler University to obtain her Master’s in Counseling and Art Therapy.

Jacqueline is currently a registered art therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor. She is working in private practice in the Chicago area where she provides expressive therapy services to individuals, families, and groups. Jacqueline provides a safe space to unleash your creative potential and encourages art making as an effective way to discover solutions to life’s struggles.

Outside of her clinical work, Jacqueline continues to use art making as a form of self-care. She is a member of the Fulton Street Collective, and is creating original oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings from her home studio in Roscoe Village. Jacqueline engages with her work in a relaxed and curious way. Her work reflects her values of being present in the current moment and explores mindfulness based techniques.

Her Involvement with Twist Out Cancer

Jackie first became involved with Twist Out Cancer in 2013. Fresh out of graduate school, she had just moved into the city and was beginning her career as a therapist.  While browsing the internet for different art therapy opportunities and different areas to share her artistic skills, she stumbled upon Twist Out Cancer in a blog post!  She was intrigued by the combination of using art as a form of healing, communicating, and storytelling. Jackie, along with many others, have lost family members and friends to Cancer, and felt a special connection to Twist. She followed her intuition and reached out to the Founder, Jenna Benn Shersher. Jenna was so welcoming and excited to have her jump on board as an artist in the Spring event. She has since participated as in artist in 3 events, and 2017 will be her 4th.

The highlight of being involved with Twist Out Cancer has definitely been the personal connections. She describes having have formed unique relationships with people that she would never have met otherwise. As an artist, she is honored to be paired with such brave and amazing individuals each year. She is excited to meet other members in the community and see all of the beautiful creations at the event on Saturday, September 9th.

Jackie recently held a night of art therapy with current Brushes with Cancer participants at Therapy Studio Chicago in Wicker Park. Be sure to check out her blog on the experience and her artwork on her website.

You can also learn more about Jackie’s involvement with Brushes with Cancer through the Brushes with Cancer impact video.

Press Release: Twist Out Cancer’s Fifth Annual Brushes With Cancer Event To Take Place On September 9

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

TWIST OUT CANCER’S FIFTH ANNUAL BRUSHES WITH CANCER EVENT TO TAKE PLACE ON SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 9

 

Connecting Those Touched by Cancer with Artists to Create for a Cause on September 9, 2017

                                                                                                           

July 17, 2017, Chicago – Twist Out Cancer, an international non-profit charitable organization that provides psychosocial support to individuals touched by cancer through creative arts programming, announced today that tickets are now on sale for its fifth annual Brushes with Cancer Exhibition and Gala.  It will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 9, 2017 at Revel Fulton Market, located at 1215 W. Fulton Market.  Brushes with Cancer is a six month program that matches those touched by cancer with artists to create a unique piece of artwork that reflects on their journey with cancer.  Over 100 artists and inspirations will showcase their stories and works of art at this year’s art exhibition and gala.  Attendees will have a chance to view and bid on over 50 unique works of art that were created by an artist as a tribute to their inspiration’s journey with cancer.  Each piece of art will be exhibited and auctioned at the event with proceeds helping to further Twist Out Cancer’s mission to support cancer survivors and their loved ones.  Over 700 attendees are expected to attend.

“After surviving Grey Zone Lymphoma in 2011, I saw firsthand how young adults with cancer have a unique set of needs that are not being addressed or talked about.  I found that one way of fulfilling this need is through creative arts, which could be used as a mechanism for coping and healing,” said Jenna Benn Shersher, the founder and executive director of Twist Out Cancer.  “Twist Out Cancer was founded on the principle that when you share, the world opens up.  Since our inception we have impacted more than 100,000 people through our online platforms and community wide programs including Brushes with Cancer.”

This year’s gala will feature remarks from Jenna Benn Shersher and Jaymee Sire, a former anchor at ESPN and current food blogger who has personally been touched by cancer.  The event will also feature a live performance by composer and filmmaker Kobi Swissa who will be playing music from the Brushes with Cancer soundtrack and DJ John Simmons who will be spinning music throughout the evening.

“Twist Out Cancer uses art as a form of healing, communicating, and storytelling,” said artist Jacqueline Carmody who has been involved with Twist out Cancer since 2013.  “I have been so honored to be paired with such brave and amazing individuals each year.  Every experience has been unique and words will never be able to express the power of this event.”

VIP tickets are available for $175 and general admission tickets are available for $125.  VIP guests will attend a private reception one hour prior to the event with the program’s participating artists and inspirations.  Dinner will be provided for all guests by Limelight Catering, Entertaining Company, and The Fat Shallot.  All tickets also include access to an open bar.  Tickets will be available for purchase online until September 8 at 5 p.m. at:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/brushes-with-cancer-chicago-2017-tickets-32820620359

Due to the success of Brushes with Cancer over the last five years, the program has successfully launched in Ann Arbor and Toronto.  In 2018, the program will be implemented in Tel Aviv, Montreal and Philadelphia.  If you are interested in participating in the program in one of the sister cities please contact Jenna Benn Shersher at jenna@twistoutcancer.org.

Established in 2011 as a non-profit organization, Twist Out Cancer 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, Twist Out Cancer has touched over 100,000 people through its programs and events.  A labor of love, Twist Out Cancer is a volunteer-led organization boasting a network of over 200 active volunteers serving as ambassadors in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Montreal.

Sponsorships for the 2017 Brushes with Cancer event are available here.

 

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For media inquiries, please contact Joshua Taustein at josh@twistoutcancer.org.

 

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

 

Meet Nichole Olson, 31-“Close Watch”

In May of 2013, Nichole found a lump in her breast during a routine shower exam. She immediately called her doctor and had it biopsied that day. She learned her fate and headed straight into a mastectomy with reconstruction followed by six months of chemo. Then in August of 2015, she had a full hysterectomy for BRCA2 gene and, sadly, in October 2016 discovered a new lump in almost the same spot as the original. Nichole had surgery again to remove and test the lump. After twenty-eight radiation treatments, she is still watching closely today.

Given the extent of her ordeal Nichole suffered from PTSD, which led her friend Heather to suggest becoming involved in our organization. Nichole thought the process of joining the Brushes With Cancer community would not only help her heal, but also provide comfort to other young women in her shoes.

Nichole’s son was only one and a half when she was first diagnosed. She worried her capabilities and limitations due to her illness would fail her as a mother. She relied on others guidance and support in raising her child. She credits her family for taking care of her son when she needed to take care of herself. Nichole treasures every major milestone with her son, especially seeing him sign up for kindergarten.

Final words from Nichole as we remember and learn from her story.

“Everybody is entitled to feel how they want to feel! If you want to feel overly optimistic and happy all of the time then do it! If you want to sit in a corner and cry the whole afternoon then do it! But the one thing you can do to help yourself is live.”

-Nichole Olson

Mother, 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.