Brushes with Cancer 2014- Pairing Artists with Those Touched by Cancer to Create for a Cause

This past April,  we launched a brand new initiative entitled “Brushes With Cancer- Pairing Artists with Survivors to Create for a Cause.” The event celebrates survivorship and hope through art, music and storytelling. Held at Chicago’s renown Floating World Gallery, the event successfully matched 18 artists with 18 survivors, and attracted over 400 attendees. In 2014 our hope is to expand the program to include 30 artists who will be matched those who have been touched by cancer. Please note that survivors, caregivers and loved ones are encouraged to participate.  We believe that you do not need to be a survivor to be impacted by this growing epidemic.

Over the next few months, those touched by cancer will be asked to share their “Twist On Cancer,” (lessons learned, fighting strategies and new perspectives) with our online community of support. Their ‘twists’ will serve as inspiration for local and international artists to create unique pieces of art. The art will be auctioned online and at the benefit this April. Check out last year’s recap video to learn more about the program.

 

Call For Submissions

Twist Out Cancer is calling upon anyone touched by cancer to share their twist on cancer between now and February 1, 2014.
To submit your Twist On Cancer click here

 
Selected artists will have the opportunity to showcase their art online and person. The art will be displayed and auctioned at Brushes with Cancer which will take place in Chicago this April.  Proceeds from the auction will go toward furthering Twist Out Cancer’s mission.

If you are interested in participating as an artist please contact Jenna Benn, Founder of Twist Out Cancer at Jenna@twistoutcancer.org

How Do I Get Involved:
If you are interested in joining the Brushes with Cancer Host Committee or are interested in supporting the event please contact Jenna@twistoutcancer.org

There will be 4 host committee meetings between January and April. Please note that you do not need to be in Chicago to participate.

 

From Leading to Following

On Sunday November 3, I had the pleasure of returning to Montreal, Canada to run a Twist Out Cancer workshop at Le Mood, the festival of unexpected Jewish learning, arts and culture.  In partnership with Dan Hadad, Twist Out Cancer Board Chair and ROI alum, the Schusterman Foundation afforded us with the unique opportunity to present our work in a city that we used to call home nearly a decade ago.

From 2003-2005, I served as the Director of Programs at Hillel Montreal after I completed my studies at McGill University.  During my tenure, I worked with Dan who at the time was the President of Concordia’s Hillel and subsequently the Director of Programming at Centre Hillel.  Dan was vibrant, argumentative, and whip smart. His relentless desire and commitment to educate and advocate for Israel amongst Jews and non-Jews alike was particularly daunting during the wake of the second intifada. On and off campus, tensions were high.  Dan used this as an opportunity to educate, advocate and transform the community into spirited cheerleaders for the state of Israel. I was initially drawn to Dan because he was a deep thinker, provocative and curious. Within weeks of working with him on various campus initiatives, I grew to love Dan because of the capacity of his heart and his deep desire to give.
Dan not only was my colleague but he quickly became my best friend.

In 2005, when I decided to pursue a masters degree at Columbia University in New York, Dan and I still managed to see each other every few weeks in Montreal on New York.  He was always a top priority.

Upon completing my studies in New York, I spent one last summer in Montreal with Dan before heading home to Chicago to begin employment at the Anti-Defamation League, where I have worked for the last six years.  As I embarked on a new chapter back home in Chicago, Dan moved to Toronto and took a position as the Associate Director of Special Projects at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Although there was an undeniable distance between us physically, we were still inextricably connected both professionally and personally. In our respective communities in Chicago and Toronto, we were working as  full time advocates for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Our lives in many ways continued to be synchronized.

On December 20, 2010 the path that Dan and I were on came to a significant crossroads. At the age of 29, I was told that I had cancer. I was forced to grapple with a life threatening illness, forced to stop making plans, and forced to live in the here and now. As I retreated into the depths of my illness, down a path that was painful and frightening, I quickly realized that  I was not alone.

Dan decided to follow me- and he was relentless. He called, texted, imed, and skyped regularly. He just kept showing up.He may not have known the perfect thing to say or do, but he just kept trying.  His capacity to love and give was overwhelming.

When I entered remission and finished treatment Dan continued to follow me. He followed me through the creation of Twist Out Cancer, he followed me to Israel where I was recently married and he followed me to Montreal to attend the Le Mood Festival. It was here, back home, in Montreal that Dan felt safe enough to articulate perhaps for the first time, what it was like for him to follow and not lead.

As I stood up in front of the audience and shared my story and my twist on cancer, Dan stepped up to the mic to share his. For the first time, I heard what it was like for him to support and navigate his best friend through the overwhelming darkness, the unexpected twists and turns, and the eventual re-entry back into the light.

As I listened to him articulate how deeply he was impacted by my illness, it became suddenly clear, that it was not I that was leading, it was Dan that I was following.

Sometimes it takes coming back home to realize how far you have come.  Thank you to the Schusterman Foundation and to Le Mood for the opportunity to listen, grow, learn, and follow.

http://www.roicommunity.org/blog/leading-following

1500 Tiny Twisters- Start a Commotion!

This past Sunday, I had the honor and privilege of sharing my story and leading 1500 survivors and supporters in the twist. The Lymphoma Research Foundation had their 10th annual walk which raises money and awareness about Lymphoma.

The Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) is the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to funding innovative lymphoma research and providing people with lymphoma and healthcare professionals with up-to-date information about this type of cancer. LRF’s mission is to eradicate lymphoma and serve those touched by this disease.

LRF assists members of the lymphoma community by providing comprehensive, disease-specific programs and services to more than 35,000 people each year, including:

  • Clinical Trials Information Service
  • Disease-Specific Publications and Websites
  • In-person Workshops and Educational Forums
  • Lymphoma Helpline
  • Lymphoma Support Network
  • Online Resources, Teleconferences and Webcasts/Podcasts
  • Patient Aid Grants
  • Professional Education
  • Public Policy and Advocacy
  • Volunteer Chapter Network

In the last 10 years, LRF’s Chicago based “Lymphomathons”- are not only the largest and most highly attended in the country- but they have raised upwards of 3 million dollars!

It was a pleasure to be able to be a part of this event. There is nothing quite like seeing a sea of survivors and supporters- twisting out cancer.

 

 

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.

Twist Out Cancer- A Movement That Moves

You are invited to attend:

Twist Out Cancer – A Movement That Moves

Friday, April 20, 2012, From 7:30-9:00 PM AT The Chicago Yoga Center

On April 20, 2012,  we invite you to join our community of tiny twisters who are determined to bend, move and Twist Out Cancer.

In December 2010, at the age of 29, Jenna Benn was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer that affects less than 300 people in the United States. After 6 months of chemotherapy and invasive treatments she has finally been able to move her life from pause to play.

Becky Strauss, Registered Yoga Teacher, and pending MSW graduate at Loyola University Chicago, helped Jenna connect with her “inner warrior” through yoga, breathing, and meditation sessions throughout her treatment.

Please join Jenna and Becky in a mindful yoga practice that will calm, heal, and nurture your soul. New to yoga?  No worries…  this class is for every body, every level, everyone!

This will also be an opportunity to learn about Jenna’s latest venture Twist Out Cancer, a non-profit organization that she founded shortly after she completed treatment.

When:         Friday April 20, 2012, 7:30-9:00 pm

Where:        The Chicago Yoga Center -3047 N. Lincoln Avenue, Unit 320, Chicago

RSVP:         Click here to register online.

Suggested donation:  $20/person but all donations are welcome! All proceeds wil go directly towards furthering the Twist Out Cancer mission.

To learn more about Twist Out Cancer click here.

To learn more about Jenna and Becky’s mindful yoga practice together as she battled Cancer click here.

To learn more about Becky Strauss click here.

http://twistoutcancer.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/becky.jpg

The Chicago Yoga Center 3047 N Lincoln Ave #320 Chicago, IL 60657

Questions? Email jenna@twistoutcancer.org Are you having trouble registering?If so please visit our site at by clicking here or scan below.

Dear Susan G. Komen

Dear Susan G. Komen,

Tomorrow is World Cancer Day and you’ve got my ta-ta’s in a twist.

Regardless of where you stand politically, for every dollar spent towards cancer research and prevention, a life like mine, and a life like Tom’s are impacted.  The world’s leading Cancer organization, Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation, decided to withdraw $680,000 from Planned Parenthood.  In the wake of fierce political campaigning and economic dissonance, cancer has somehow become a polarizing political issue as opposed to a human issue. 

We are supposed to be fighting cancer- not fighting each other.

This isn’t about about a political divide- this disease only has one side.

We are better together.

Join us.

Join the conversation @twistoutcancer #tatasinatwist

 

A Change in Lenses

I have to be honest with you.

It’s time for me to come clean.

My prescription has changed.

Back in January my lenses were translucent. I saw you and the world around me with such clarity.

My world was in hyper-color.

As cancer robbed me of my physicality, my sense of normalcy, and tested my emotional stability- you started to glow.

As I was deprived of my senses-I was also on sensory overload.

Even in my darkest moments- I saw you dancing in the sunlight.

The more challenging obstacles were met with visual overstimulation.

You were beautiful.

I was counting the months, the days, the weeks, the moments- where I would eventually be able to emerge from the shadows and join you in hyper-color.

And now- here we are- 8 months post treatment- and you are still glowing-but not all the time.

I still see you with incredible clarity and disarming translucence.

But on some days you are more sepia toned- more muted.

Seeing the world in hyper-color was not sustainable and perhaps is no longer is necessary.

If I were still in hyper-color, I would still feel robbed.

I no longer feel as if something was taken.

Instead I feel I was given the greatest gift.

I now have moments in hype color.

It is those moments-that remind me of my journey- that remind me that I am alive- that remind me of how much I have to be grateful for.

Seeing the world through hyper-color lenses, allowed me to learn what it means to live a life elevated by trauma, elevated by hardship, elevated by suffering.

It is the muted and glowing moments- it is the change in prescription- it is the glimpses of hype-color that show me that I am healing.

Hopes and Dreams and Everything in Between

 In 2010 and 2011 when I was fighting cancer, I made a list of hopes and dreams that I hoped to achieve after I completed treatment and started to rebuild my life.

As I approach the New Year, I am again reminded of the importance of evaluating where I was, where I am, and where I would like to be.

Here was my list for 2011 (in no particular order) -with status updates.

  1. Get into remission- Completed/a constant work in progress.
  2. Remember what it feels like to be tied up and to eventually become untied- Completed/In Progress.
  3. Run in the middle of a rain storm with all my clothes on. Completed
  4. Put my toes in the sand. Completed
  5. Drink a glass of wine while watching the sunset over the ocean-Completed
  6. Travel with Neely- Pending
  7. Train and complete a ½ marathon- Completed
  8.  Raise over $18,000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society-Completed
  9.  Meet my Angel Ann in a foreign city- Pending
  10.  Start my own non-profit- Completed
  11.  Become a regular contributor for a major publication- Completed
  12.  Host a dance party for all my family and friends to celebrate life- Completed
  13. Travel to Steamboat Colorado and revisit the hikes I struggled to finish when my body was being ravaged by cancer. Completed
  14. Eat healthy every day (with some room for mistakes)- In Progress
  15. Remember how being sick feels- In Progress
  16. Thank G-d every day- In Progress
  17. Express my gratitude frequently and in meaningful ways- In Progress.
  18. Find love again- A Constant Work in Progress
  19. Dance every day- In Progress
  20.  Sing every day- In Progress
  21. Be thankful for waking up- In Progress
  22. Be thankful for falling asleep- In Progress
  23. To heal- A Constant Work In Progress

And here is my list of Hopes and Dreams for 2012 (which include all the points that are in progress from the list above).

  1. To appreciate what it means to wiggle my toes
  2. To feel challenged emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
  3. To find new ways to give.
  4. To nurture the relationships I have- and be open to unexpected new ones.
  5. To share what it means to see in hyper-color.
  6. To remember life’s fragility and continuously celebrate a life elevated.
  7. To take risks -but not act impulsively.
  8. To confront my fears head on, and remember that I have a tool kit and a community of cheerleaders that can help navigate future challenges.
  9. To capture moments with a lens, but not at the cost of being present.
  10. To live mindfully.
  11. To find meaning in suffering.
  12. To look for opportunities that will continue to add to my feelings of fulfillment.
  13. To plan but not at the cost of spontaneity.
  14. To dream big.
  15. To love wholeheartedly.
  16. To remember that the jitterbug is just as meaningful as a good old fashion slow dance.
  17. To remember it’s ok to tiptoe.
  18. To remind my family and friends how much they mean to me.
  19. To venture outside of my comfort zone.
  20. To remember the value of saying I am sorry.
  21. To continue to nurture the communication between my mind and body.
  22. To learn, accept and celebrate this new body.
  23. To remember the power of twisting. 

Here’s to a year filled with hopes and dreams- and everything in between.

 Happy New Year.

When What Was Lost Is Now Found.

It has been a year.

A year since I heard those three words.

A year since my life, my world, my sense of security was taken from me and held for ransom.

A year that was outlined by sickness, weakness, and sadness- yet filled in with hope, promise, and blessings.

A year filled with significant challenges, and crippling fears-to a year filled with significant purpose and liberation.

From tied up to untied.

It has been a year of juxtapositions, of opposites attracting, of finding profound meaning in the deepest of suffering.

It was there in my blood-the disease, the fight, the poison that healed me.

It was there in my blood, the tool kit, the road map, the navigation system for how to find calm in the most violent of storms.

It was year that forced me to be selfish- when I am most comfortable giving.

It was a year that at caused me to retreat and become silent, when I wanted to be screaming.

It was a year that forced me to slow down when I am used  to sprinting.

It was a year that tested all relationships- physically, emotionally and spiritually.

It was a year of soul searching, evaluation, and deep contemplation.

It was a year of unlocking the parts of myself that had been quieted and dormant.

It was a year of spiritual and creative awakening.

It was a year where my vulnerabilities were put on display, and my inner most strength accessed and harnessed.

It was a year where I was put on pause, and the rest of the world was on play.

It was a year where I watched your lives unfold, hoping to one day join you.

It was a year where where I lived somewhere between reality and fantasy.

It was a year of paralysis and a year of movement.

It was a year where I tiptoed  between the shadows and the sunlight.

Tomorrow as I officially mark my 1st Cancerversary- you will find me twisting somewhere between these what was and what is- between what was lost and what is now found.

These two worlds, these two selves- these two experiences-  live within me.

I approach this day with the profound gratitude that I am alive, that I am here, that I am present,and that I have survived.

May this year of taking become a year of giving.

Thank you for the lessons learned, for the hope renewed, for a life elevated.

I am and will be forever be grateful for you.

   


On Track for a Cure

On Sunday October 9, 2011- over 400 survivors and their loved ones attended UCLA’s On Track for a Cure (www.ontrackforacure.org) at UCLA’s Drake Stadium to celebrate survivorship and the importance of living life in spite of Cancer.

On Track for a Cure was conceptualized and created by Dr. Pinter Brown and Dr. Timerman, two leading Lymphoma specialists that not only treat patients but are responsible for developing novel immuntherapeutic approaches for Lymphoma and other related Cancer’s at UCLa’s Medical Center. This event aimed and succeeded  in creating a sense of community amongst survivors and supporters, and helped to raise money and awareness for Lymphoma Research.

Following Dr. Pinter Brown and Dr. Timmerman’s keynote address, Michael C. Hall, star of the hit television show Dexter, led the survivors and their loved one’s in a victory lap around Drake Stadium.  Following the walk, Jesse Palter and the Alter Ego (www.palterego.com) graced the stage with incredible energy and talent.  I concluded the event by sharing my story and leading the group in the twist.

It was a day of celebration, and most importantly a day filled with hope.

It was a true privilege to be apart of this event and I look forward to continuing to support  the efforts of the talented UCLA staff and their inspirational community of survivors.

A special thanks to Steve Bartolucci and Jonny Imerman for connecting the dots and making this happen.

And to the Tiny Twisters- thank you for moving with me.

 

Michael C. Hall Leading the Pack!

 

 

Rockstar Survivor Kristin Brown

The Motley Crew- TJ, Adam Siegal, Jesse Palter and Sam Barsh