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Meet Jenna Benn Shersher of Twist Out Cancer in West Loop

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Benn Shersher.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
When I was 29, I was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer called Grey Zone Lymphoma which at the time impacted less than 200 people worldwide. As a young adult, with a rare type of cancer, I found myself disconnected from the world around me. Throughout my rigorous treatment I started to realize that there were not enough organizations and resources that focused on the psychosocial needs of previvors, survivors and caregivers.

Through writing and dance I was able to find reconnect with my voice and body. Midway through treatment I posted a video on YouTube asking for the community to join me on the dance floor and do the twist. Within a few days we had thousands of people twisting out cancer. This is how Twist Out Cancer was born.

Since 2011, when I founded Twist Out Cancer we have impacted 100,000 people through our online community and programs. We focus on addressing the psychosocial needs of individuals touched by cancer through creative arts programming. Our programs are currently in Chicago, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Montreal, Toronto and Tel Aviv.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The process of going from survivor to Founder of a non-profit was exciting and in many ways therapeutic. It allowed me to find meaning in my suffering and create a platform for others to share, connect and heal. When I built the foundation for Twist, I was still in treatment. My cancer experience was still front and center in my mind which meant that all of my free time was focused on cancer. I had a hard time turning cancer off.

Thankfully, my daytime hours were spent working for the Anti-Defamation League, an organization I care for and love deeply. Having time away from cancer was critical not only for my own well-being but for the health of Twist Out Cancer.

In the last 18 months, I left my role at the Anti-Defamation League and started working on Twist Out Cancer full time. What was my passion project is now my full time job. As the Founder and Executive Director of Twist, I still struggle with “turning cancer off.” I am deeply invested in the individuals that participate in our programs and at times it can be hard to separate myself from their experiences. My 21/2 year old daughter who is full of life and wonder has served as a great distraction from how hard the work can be.

She forces me to turn off my work and focus on what is important- the here and now.

Please tell us about Twist Out Cancer.
Twist Out Cancer provides psychosocial support to individuals touched by cancer through creative arts programming. Our program Brushes with Cancer creates unexpected intersections between artists and individuals touched by cancer. Over a 4-6 month period the artists and inspirations connect, share their stories and develop deep friendships. At the end of the program, the artists reveal a unique work of art that is reflective of the inspirations journey with cancer. This process of sharing, and connecting allows the inspiration to actively engage in the healing process and see their story with a fresh pair of eyes.

We believe that through storytelling and utilizing the arts we can eliminate stigmatization and educate the community in the process. Our eclectic and empathic community involves people from all ages and walks of life. We are different from other non-profit organizations in the sense that we focus on the stories of previvors, survivors and caregivers who we believe all deserve to have a place at the table. Through storytelling, and connecting with others we are in turn able to support and aid in healing.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I have such fond memories spending time at the Glencoe beach in the summer as a kid. I loved swimming out to the raft in the middle of Lake Michigan with my friends all the while being terrified of the fishes below. Chicago comes alive in the Spring and Summer and some of my best childhood memories were spent at the lakefront.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 702 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123
  • Website: twistoutcancer.org
  • Email: jenna@twistoutcancer.org
  • Instagram: @twistoutcancer
  • Facebook: twistoutcancer
  • Twitter: twistoutcancer

Image Credit:
Avi Fox Loren

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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