In the quiet moments during her cancer treatment, Jeri Davis didn’t turn to inspirational readings or soothing music to help her cope. Instead, she used her wicked sense of humor to create a list of thoughts that chronicled her experiences and made her laugh.
- “The Cardboard Cookbook: How to Make Anything Taste Like Cardboard by Simply Using the Cumulative Effects of Chemotherapy!”
- “I gave my oncologist a jar of candy for Christmas… Saved my life, here, have some candy.”
- “What do I do with all these headbands?”
When Davis, 65, realized her one-liners could help other people find humor during cancer care, she asked her Chicago artist friends to draw pictures that represented her words. Together with 15 artists—many who she’d met during her advertising career, and two who she’d known since first grade—Davis created “Greetings from Chemo Country,” an “irreverent and often inappropriate coloring book about chemotherapy.” She is sharing the book with Northwestern Medicine and LivingWell Cancer Resource Center to help other patients and families who are dealing with cancer.
Davis’ cancer journey began in September 2020 when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during an eight-day stay at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. When she started chemotherapy at the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center in Warrenville, Davis said the experience “blew apart” her expectations.
“I was surprised to hear the laughter at the nurses station when I started chemo because I expected it to be a lot more serene, a lot more sedate, a lot more serious,” Davis said. “The fact that there were people laughing out there made me think that there’s a lot of life in cancer. This is not a death sentence. This is something you can live through and make something more out of. That was a big spark to me.”
It seemed easier to write down brief thoughts rather than long paragraphs, and when Davis showed her work to her physician, her nurses and her creative partner, Cheryl Cook, they all encouraged her to create the coloring book.
Davis was overwhelmed by the response she received from the artists, who sent black-and-white drawings that were inspired by her words. Within two months, she had 24 drawings that were ready to be published.
“I’m surfing on this huge wave of gratitude, which is what’s been getting me along since September,” she said. “This is my take on cancer, my experience, and I know my sense of humor may not be for everybody. But I know some people will be able to see themselves or their experiences in these pages. I want the book to be a distraction for them, and to provide comfort or relaxation.”
Amy Forde, an oncology infusion nurse who cared for Davis during her chemotherapy sessions, said she was in awe of Davis’ ability to put her experiences onto pages that can be shared with other patients.
“I’ve found that for a lot of people, they feel the most normal and most like themselves when they are getting chemotherapy with us because we don’t know how to treat them like they’re sick,” Forde said. “We don’t know how to treat them like this is such a somber, serious situation. I don’t know if it’s our sense of humor that helps us get through our days, but I’ve never had as much fun in my life as I do with my chemo patients.”
Cheri Hunt, an art instructor at the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center, said Jeri’s creation can help provide patients and families a different perspective about cancer treatment.
“The coloring book is a great way to release stress and anxiety during chemotherapy,” Hunt said. “I love the collaboration of artists that Jeri had create the pages, just proving that we are all in this together. It’s healing for everybody.”
Davis ended the book with a final illustration that depicts a large, smiling mouth in front of a background that repeats, “Ha!Ha!Ha!” At the bottom of the page, her words that inspired the drawing sum up her approach to her cancer experience.
“Haven’t cried over cancer, but have definitely laughed a lot.”
Information on how to obtain a copy of “Greetings from Chemo Country” is now available at extralineas.org.
Read about Jeri Davis and her new book in the Daily Herald.
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