When someone gets a diagnosis of cancer it seems unlikely that they would begin calling themselves or thinking of themselves as an “inspiration”. That was one of many intriguing details about Twist Out Cancer that perked the interest of Picture this Post’s editor and led to the following conversation about this initiative to marry artistic expression with healing.
Here, Picture This Post (PTP) talks with August Spree (AS) who is a Twist Out Cancer board member, cancer survivor and caregiver and a host committee chair for a Brushes with Cancer event coming soon to Detroit on August 1, 2019. Similar events have been held in various cities in the US- and the world. August was designated an “inspiration” at a 2015 Brushes with Cancer Gala in Chicago.
(PTP ) What is the mission of Twist Out Cancer?
(AS) The mission of Twist Out Cancer is to provide psychosocial support to individuals touched by cancer through creative arts programming.
How did the organization get started?
After being diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma in 2011, Jenna Benn Shersher saw firsthand how young adults with cancer have a unique set of needs that are not being addressed or talked about. She found that one way of fulfilling this need is through creative arts, which could be used as a mechanism for coping and healing. To do this, Jenna founded the non-profit organization, Twist Out Cancer.
Is Twist out Cancer national or??
What started in 2012 as a small art exhibition in Chicago for 20 Inspirations (someone touched by cancer) and Artists has now become an international program that has touched over 18,000 people around the world. Inaugural events were recently held in Tel Aviv and Montreal in 2018, in which a combined 750 people attended, danced the night away, and marveled at the compelling art pieces created in honor of those touched by cancer. The sixth annual Brushes With Cancer in Chicago took place on November 3, 2018.
What other events are being planned for Twist Out Cancer this calendar year?
In 2019. Brushes with Cancer events will be held for the first time in Detroit, Austin, and Philadelphia, while also returning home to Chicago.
Do you have “members”? How many people are involved in the organization and in what capacities?
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, Ann Arbor, Austin, Tel Aviv, Toronto, and Montreal. This includes the Twist Out Cancer Board of Directors that is made up of 27 people.
How did Brushes With Cancer get started?
While in treatment, Jenna met Anna Swarthout (now Moschner) a survivor of Grey Zone Lymphoma. Jenna was a few years younger that Anna, and they shared some of the same feelings of loss and frustration from having cancer while still in their prime. With the help of Twist Out Cancer, Moschner grew a global support group with people painting works of art and baking cookies to support her. Brushes With Cancer soon emerged from this experience.
What is Brushes with Cancer?
Brushes with Cancer is a unique celebration of survivorship and hope pairing previvors, survivors, and caregivers with talented artists working in a variety of mediums. Those touched by cancer share their ‘twist on cancer’ – stories, feelings and experiences – with the artist, which serves as the inspiration for the art. The program culminates with a celebratory annual event and fundraiser in which the artwork is revealed for the first time.
Who selects or recruits the artists involved in Brushes with Cancer?
For each city that hosts a Brushes With Cancer program, we put out applications for Inspirations and Artists to apply to and receive an overwhelming number of applications in each city. The artists that we pair with an Inspiration range from professional artists who have exhibited at the Tate Modern to college students who are studying the arts and are committed to giving back.
What happens at the August 1 event in Detroit? Are these artworks for sale?
Brushes in Cancer in Detroit will feature 23 Inspirations who have been paired with 23 artists, most of whom live in the Detroit metropolitan area. The artwork that was Inspired by someone’s journey with cancer will be on display for the first time at this gala and fundraiser. All of the art pieces will be sold via an auction, with the proceeds going to help bring the Brushes With Cancer program to more cities around the world and have a positive impact on those touched by cancer.
(Editor’s Note Click here for tickets to this August 1 Brushes With Cancer Detroit event.).
How long does it take to create the Brushes with Cancer event? Is this a recurring event or ??
Brushes With Cancer is the signature program of Twist Out Cancer. It is held no more than once a year in select cities around the world.
August, how did you get involved with Twist Out Cancer?
I randomly walked into a Brushes With Cancer Gala in Chicago in 2014, not knowing anything about the program or the organization. A work friend had told me a little about the event and I agreed to go. When I walked in and began to look at the art and read the stories, I became tearful and asked who was in charge. Someone pointed out Jenna in the crowd and I walked up to her and said, “Hi. We are going to be friends.” From that point on, I knew I needed to be involved somehow. The way art was being used to tell people’s stories stirred me, and I wanted to help in whatever way I could.
As an Inspiration at Brushes With Cancer in Chicago, how has the program had a positive impact on you?
At the time I chose to participate, I was already 11 years beyond my own cancer diagnosis and seven years beyond losing my grandmother to cancer. I thought it would be a positive experience, but I had no idea just how healing it would be for me. I was able to open up and share things that I had never spoken out loud before. Things like how scared I was to be diagnosed at eight months pregnant, not knowing if I would be able to see my baby grow up, or things like how angry I was that I had survived but my grandmother had not. And my artist, Brad Young, listened to me and used the painful stories that I shared to create something beautiful. He made a sculpture titled “The Dance” which represented the ways that I had flowed and “danced” through the difficult things that I had dealt with. I cried when I saw it. That brought me so much healing, not only being able to share but also seeing how my journey could represent something beautiful and strong to someone else.
Why are you bringing Brushes With Cancer to Detroit?
After moving to Michigan from Chicago, I fell in love with Detroit. The resilience, the spirit of the people, the city itself – everything. I knew right away that I wanted to bring the program here. I am thankful to finally see Brushes With Cancer in Detroit become a reality!
As you have already been working with Inspirations and Artists in Detroit, are there any examples of hope that you have already seen?
So many! Each story is truly inspiring and amazing, and the ways these artists have created works of art has amazed me! We have sculptures and ceramics, paintings and collages, so many other mediums and I can’t wait for people to see these pieces and experience these stories. One that comes to mind is Logan Moore who is living with a terminal diagnosis and is learning to take advantage of every moment in life. Another is Anna Warner-Mayes who had four recurrences of metastatic cancer. She talks about what it’s like to live life in a loop between scans and uses a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert to help describe her viewpoint: “There are no dying people. There are only living people and dead people.” One of our artists, Kara Thomas, has created a beautiful ceramic piece using her Inspiration’s radiation mask as the framework.
Part of the reason I love working with Twist Out Cancer is that I have the privilege of meeting these people, these artists and inspirations. It continues to inspire me and help me to grow too.
Can you please tell Picture this Post readers a little more about the event in Detroit?
Brushes with Cancer in Detroit will be held at the Detroit Shipping Company on Thursday, August 1. It is a great venue right in the heart of the city with a beautiful art gallery space as well as an outdoor garden area that we will be using. The keynote speaker for this year’s gala is Dr. Eddie Connor, who is a best-selling author, international speaker, college professor, actor, and a radio and television correspondent. He is also a survivor of stage 4 cancer and empowers people to overcome obstacles.
What can Artists and Inspirations expect from their experiences with Brushes With Cancer in Detroit?
They can expect to form long-term friendships, to be able to grow and heal and expand their own worldview. When you listen to someone else’s story, you expand part of yourself. When you tell someone your story, you expand part of yourself. This program builds connections. It’s a form of embracing someone else, no matter how far they are in their journey of being human, and seeing the beauty within. It’s the Inspiration’s job to be open and to share – which can be difficult. It’s the Artist’s job to listen, be supportive and then take that person’s story and make art out of it, then show it to the world, so other people can listen, share, connect and heal.
For more information visit the Twist Out Cancer website.