Twist Out Cancer, an organization providing support and empowerment to individuals touched by cancer, is celebrating 10 years in 2022. While the past decade has seen Twist Out Cancer grow to hundreds of thousands of people participating both IRL and online, founder Jenna Benn Shersher is looking forward to Twist Out Cancer blossoming even more.
“When I thought of building an organization that was based on my cancer experience, I always said that I would do it until it stopped feeling good or meaningful,” remarks Shersher. “I can honestly say that 10 years later, it’s continuing to feel really good and it’s continuing to feel really meaningful.”
When Shersher founded Twist Out Cancer, her initial hope was to empower people to share their story and connect with others.
“[It’s] amazing to me to see how one person’s story—one person coming forward and sharing what they’ve experienced—can spark so many others to do the same: to make themselves vulnerable, to open up and be real about what their experiences are like,” says Shersher.
Of course, the organization’s growth did come with a few challenges—such as the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus forced many organizations and companies to transition virtually, this was a challenge that Shersher already knew.
“When I started Twist, I was stuck inside. I was in a hospital room and unable to connect with the world around me, so I understood the power of social media and building community online,” Shersher explains.
Shersher was isolated while going through cancer treatment for grey zone lymphoma. Even several years post-treatment, Shersher recalls the fear of large gatherings. She knew that she had to provide a space for similar cancer warriors who wanted to attend Twist Out Cancer’s events but might not be able to leave their homes or hospital rooms.
“We started thinking about it. What is at the heart of the Brushes with Cancer programs? How do we convey that in a virtual space? What are the things that we can do? As a result of that, we’ve been able to be incredibly innovative with how we bring this program to people who are not able to attend an in-person event,” says Shersher.
The past decade also gifted Shersher with a new perspective on her cancer experience. She understands how the journey feels at different stages of life.
“My needs as a survivor are changing all the time,” she says. “We meet people where they’re at no matter where [that is]. Whether they’re across the country; or whether they’re in the throes of treatment; or whether they’ve relapsed, we have opportunities to aid in people’s storytelling and connecting and healing throughout their journey.”
What’s on the horizon for Twist Out Cancer? In addition to expanding Brushes with Cancer programs and working with more cancer centers and foundations, Shersher’s also excited about an installation at the WNDR Museum in Chicago this October. Visitors will be able see the art created from the Brushes with Cancer programs for an extended time.
As for Shersher’s final reflection on 10 years of Twist Out Cancer? The entire experience has taught her how valuable life is.
“I am constantly looking at life and death all the time and how fine that line is between the two,” Shersher says. “My work with Twist has allowed me to feel incredibly grateful that I am here and that I am able to provide a meaningful space for other people.”
For more information, visit twistoutcancer.org