At age 29, Jenna Benn Shersher was diagnosed with gray zone lymphoma, a rare blood cancer that often kept her isolated in her home due to her compromised immune system. She felt lucky to have her family and friends support her during her dark days. And yet, she still sensed there was something missing--a community of people who, like her, have been touched by cancer.
Inspired by the idea of ending her own isolation as well as others', Shersher--a former Chicago Jewish communal professional and a past 36 Under 36 honoree--started blogging and sharing her personal journey on social media upon learning her diagnosis. It was at that time that she posed a challenge to her growing base of followers: Do the twist.
"When I was too sick to dance, the only real movement I could do was the twist because it was simple and didn't tax me," said Shersher, who now lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two young daughters.
This challenge inspired the name of the nonprofit she founded, Twist Out Cancer, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The organization aims to provide a space for support and connection to previvors (those at higher risk for cancer), survivors, and caregivers through creative arts programming which serves as a mechanism for healing.
One of Twist Out Cancer's major programs--Brushes With Cancer--pairs artists with those touched by cancer to collaborate on unique pieces of artwork reflective of their journeys.
"Through that process of storytelling, people can figure out what they want to share and what's important for the artist and the world to know--it makes them more comfortable with their story," said Shersher, now 10 years in remission. The act of sharing and creating, she said, can both mitigate isolation and promote psychological healing.
In the future, Shersher hopes to bolster the robust virtual community she has built during the pandemic, but also to hold in-person events like the Brushes With Cancer Midwest exhibition in Lincoln Park on Nov. 14.
For more information about Twist Out Cancer, visit