Reflective Art

December 2018 View more

Artist Nicolette Schwartz (left) with cancer survivor Katherine Beer (right). Photo by Teresa Connelly

Unique and personal expressions of the challenge that is cancer

Nothing could have prepared Katherine Beer for the pain of being diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. The Naperville resident was 11 weeks pregnant when she received the diagnosis.

“My treatment options were limited already by the type of cancer I had,” says Beer, who was pregnant for the first time. “Unfortunately, I had to give up my dream of carrying a child so I could survive.”

Beer underwent six different types of chemotherapy over two years before receiving a stem cell transplant in June 2017. As she faced the illness, Beer wanted to connect with others coping with cancer and help them by sharing her story. She discovered that outlet with Twist Out Cancer, a nonprofit founded in 2011 that provides psychosocial support to cancer survivors and their loved ones through the creative arts.

One of its programs is Brushes with Cancer, which partners a cancer survivor with an artist to create a unique piece of artwork that reflects the survivor’s journey through illness. Beer was paired with Nicolette Schwartz, a Chicago-based artist and illustrator.

The two met to talk about Beer’s unique experiences with her illness. Beer mentioned that she and her husband love cooking and trying new restaurants, but chemotherapy had robbed her of her sense of taste.

Schwartz created a trio of images—a tipped-over bottle of salt in gray hues, a collection of juicy red tomatoes (above), and finally a luscious banana split with ice cream and chocolate syrup—to reflect how Beer’s palate was reborn.

Beer says expressing her journey in art has helped her to move past the illness and begin to look to the future. “It’s very therapeutic to not just say the words, but to visualize it,” she says.

Schwartz was gratified to reflect Beer’s story in images, which were included in an exhibit at the Brushes with Cancer gala in Chicago on November 3.

“It’s a sweet ending to a bitter story,” says Schwartz. “It’s a happy ending in a way.”


Outlet for Expression

Twist Out Cancer got its start with a ’60s dance that was inspired by rock-and-roll: the twist.

While receiving treatment for gray zone lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that affects fewer than 300 people in the U.S., Twist Out founder Jenna Benn Shersher (above), a dancer at heart, spent her days in isolation as her immune system was compromised. Yearning to dance freely again, she created an online video of herself doing the twist. She challenged others to join her on the virtual dance floor and, within days, thousands had responded with their own videos.

Recognizing the power of sharing stories, Shersher started Twist Out Cancer, a nonprofit that lets cancer survivors post their stories, and creates a supportive community for them. Participants create a profile page to share their “twist on cancer”—lessons learned, fighting strategies, and/or a new perspective.

They also participate in art therapy and other creative programming that helps them process and better understand where they’ve been and where they’re going.

“We showcase their stories and celebrate what they’ve been through,” Shersher says.

For more information on Twist Out Cancer’s psychosocial support, education, or workshops, go to


Gwen Williams holds a caricature drawn by Sparkles Entertainment

Respite Comfort
The Design Bar recently hosted its inaugural philanthropic event, The Giving Room, to raise funds benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana. The Design Bar will also donate time and resources to refresh the foyer and design a new family space for the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn. The welcoming, livable, and comforting respite spaces are used by families of sick children who aim to stay close to the care and resources of the hospital during treatment.

Edward’s Big Gig
The Edward Foundation raised $850,000 at its 28th annual gala, The Big Gig: Swing, on October 13 at the Westin Lombard. A portion of the proceeds raised will help fund the Foundation’s Cardiac Innovations Campaign, which will support construction of the Structural Heart Center and a new three-story medical office building on the northeast corner of the Edward Hospital campus. Nearly 700 people attended the event, which is the foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year.

Helping Hands
Thirty-six local Allstate agency owners and volunteers recently secured a $24,000 Allstate Foundation Helping Hands grant to benefit the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, plus nine other Feeding America member food banks. Recent hurricanes and wildfires have significantly depleted the disaster resources of Feeding America, which serves 46 million Americans annually.