A cancer diagnosis for Jeri Davis has brought Wheaton’s 65-year-old wife to a plethora of positive platitudes.
“A lot of them are ‘Up With People’ and ‘You’ve got this’,” says Davis, who appreciates the sentiment. “But I also needed something different.”
So she wrote a book called “Greetings from the Land of Chemotherapy: An Irreverent and Often Inappropriate Coloring Book on Chemotherapy”. During her career as an award-winning writer and account manager at a major advertising firm, Davis honed her kinky sense of humor, which she uses in her book.
“I wasn’t thinking of writing a book. I just wanted to laugh,” Davis says.
She unveiled her book this week at Northwestern Medicine LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, where director Angela McCrum, program and outreach coordinator Sue Gillerlain and art teacher Cheri Hunt pledged to use the book at the center.
About 18,000 patients and caregivers visit the center each year for support and advice, as well as for cooking, fitness, yoga and art classes, among others. Davis has given Northwestern Medicine permission to use the book in Geneva and at a new LivingWell center that will open this fall in Warrenville.
“She had a seed that was planted and bloomed,” says McCrum, who imagines the book strikes a chord with many people who are experiencing cancer.
The book features a brightly colored drawing of Davis with a bald head on the cover. He combines his lapidary observations with professional illustrations from 15 established artists. “Getting the artwork was like opening a gift every time,” says Davis, who has received drawings from two artists she has known since first year and many she has met during of his years in advertising.
Having plenty of time to watch television during her cancer treatment, Davis’ commentary on “The Queen’s Gambit” and her attempts to “channel her fiery heroine” led to a drawing of a woman with a scarf on her head. and a needle in her arm playing chess saying, “I might have cancer, but cancer hasn’t.”
Other pages are more about humor. “The world’s most expensive haircut” features a bald woman hooked up to IV chemo in a beauty salon, as the stylist says, “It will be $ 12,000.” Another drawing features “The Cardboard Cookbook,” explaining “how to make anything cardboard taste like just using the cumulative effects of chemotherapy”.
One of Davis’ favorites is called “Deeper Thoughts,” with a drawing asking, “What am I doing with all these headbands?” “
“I’ve always had long hair. I’ve been wearing headbands since I was 7,” says Davis, whose hair is now short but growing.
Writing the book was not the process she envisioned. “What I didn’t realize was the lack of complete thoughts I had during chemo,” she said with a chuckle. “I had all of these unique pieces.”
Writing the book and working with the artists were healing.
“You pay up front, if you can make someone laugh or even smile,” Gillerlain says.
“There is a healing power in humor,” says McCrum. In art too.
“Art itself reduces anxiety and stress,” says Hunt, as she stands in an art room filled with drawings, paintings, sculptures and other works by people struggling with the cancer. “I’ve been here for 15 years, and I’ve seen so many people say, ‘It saved my life. “”
Davis’ journey with cancer began with swallowing problems late last summer. In September, she spent eight days at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. She started chemotherapy a day after being diagnosed with stage 2 with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She says she was able to breathe better within 20 minutes of starting chemotherapy and is cancer free after finishing 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 his work in grant development and writing with Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding and Education Center at Harvard, which uses horses in therapy. She has also received a lot of support from her 40-year-old husband, Mark, and their adult sons, Andrew, who lives in Naperville, and Sean, who lives in Wheaton.
Most of the connections she made with artists occurred during her career with the international advertising agency DBD. Cheryl Cook is Davis’ creative partner and one of the artists. The other artists are Steve Brodwolf, Paul Brourman, Lynn Crosswaite, Cathy Grisham, Kathy Halper, John Hayes, Carol Hillinger, Wendy Kaplan, Andrew Lucas, WB Reaves, Al Rozanski, Tim Souers, James Swanson and David Toyoshima.
The book is part of Davis’ non-profit agency called Extra Lineas Corp. She will not sell the book, but is considering donations as a way to distribute the book to other hospitals and cancer centers. For more information, visit extralineas.org. She already has enough material and artists eager to embark on a second book.
“I always thought I would be a writer,” Davis says. “I didn’t think it would be a cancer coloring book.”