Constable: Wheaton woman's cancer coloring book finds the humor in chemo
A cancer diagnosis for Jeri Davis brought the 65-year-old Wheaton woman a plethora of positive platitudes.
"A lot of them are 'Up With People,' and 'You've got this,'" says Davis, who appreciates that sentiment. "But I also needed something different."
So she wrote a book titled, "Greetings from Chemo Country: An irreverent and often inappropriate coloring book about chemotherapy." During her career as a writer and an award-winning account executive with a large advertising firm, Davis honed her wicked sense of humor, which she uses in her book.
"I wasn't thinking about writing a book. I just wanted to laugh," Davis says.
She unveiled her book this week at Northwestern Medicine's LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, where director Angela McCrum, program and outreach coordinator Sue Gillerlain, and art instructor Cheri Hunt committed to using the book at the center.
About 18,000 patients and caretakers visit the center each year to get support and counseling, but also to take classes in cooking, fitness, yoga, and art among other things. Davis has given Northwestern Medicine permission to use the book in Geneva and at a new LivingWell center opening this fall in Warrenville.
"She had a seed that was planted and blossomed," says McCrum, who envisions the book striking a chord with many people going through the cancer experience.
The book features a vividly colored drawing of Davis with a bald head on the cover. It combines her pithy observations with professional illustrations from 15 established artists. "Getting the artwork was like opening a gift every time," says Davis, who received drawings from two artists she's known since first grade and many she met during her years in advertising.
Having a lot of time to watch TV during her cancer treatment, Davis' comment about "The Queen's Gambit" and her attempts to "channel its feisty heroine" led to a drawing of a woman with a scarf on her head and a needle in her arm playing chess saying, "I may have cancer, but cancer doesn't have me."
Other pages are more about the humor. "World's most expensive haircut" features a bald woman hooked up to a chemo IV in a beauty salon as the stylist says, "That'll be $12,000." Another drawing features "The Cardboard Cookbook," explaining "how to make anything taste like cardboard by simply using the cumulative effects of chemotherapy."
One of Davis' favorites is called "More deep thoughts," with a drawing asking, "What do I do with all these headbands?"
"I've always had long hair. I've worn hair bands since I was 7," says Davis, whose hair now is short but growing.
Writing the book wasn't the process she envisioned. "What I didn't realize was the lack of complete thoughts I had during chemo," she says with a chuckle. "I had all these one-offs."
Writing the book and working with the artists were therapeutic.
"This is you paying it forward, if you can make someone laugh or even smile," Gillerlain says.
"There's healing power in humor," McCrum says. In art, too.
"The art itself reduces the anxiety and stress," Hunt says, as she stands in an art room filled with drawings, paintings, sculptures and other works by people coping with cancer. "I've been here 15 years, and I've had so many people say, 'This saved my life.'"
Davis' journey with cancer began with problems swallowing at the end of last summer. In September, she spent eight days at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. She started chemo a day after she was diagnosed as Stage 2 with a form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She says she was able to breathe easier within 20 minutes of starting chemo, and she now is cancer free after completing the treatments in January.
"I couldn't ask for a better cancer experience, which sounds crazy," Davis says. She dedicated her book to her oncologist, Dr. Ahmad Zarzour, and her chemo nurse, Amy Forde.
Davis has been on leave from her job in development and grant-writing with Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding and Education Center in Harvard, which uses horses in therapy. She also has gotten plenty of support from her husband of 40 years, Mark, and their grown sons, Andrew, who lives in Naperville, and Sean, who lives in Wheaton.
Many of the connections she made with artists came during her career with the international advertising agency DBD. Cheryl Cook is Davis' creative partner and one of the artists. Other artists are Steve Brodwolf, Paul Brourman, Lynn Crosswaite, Cathy Grisham, Kathy Halper, John Hayes, Carol Hillinger, Wendy Kaplan, Andrew Lucas, W.B. Reaves, Al Rozanski, Tim Souers, James Swanson and David Toyoshima.
The book is part of Davis' not-for-profit agency called Extra Lineas Corp. She won't sell the book, but is looking at donations as a way to spread the book to other hospitals and cancer centers. For information, visit extralineas.org. She already has enough material and willing artists to start on a second book.
"I always thought I'd be a writer," Davis says. "I didn't think it would be a coloring book about cancer."