Bethel alum and adjunct professor combines her painful cancer experience and design talent into an impactful passion project creating an impact in the classroom and beyond.
By Hannah Hunhoff
Andrea Bonhiver lay restlessly in her bed in 2018, scrolling through Amazon in search of any forums or books about young women battling cervical cancer. She longed to find other young women who had the same type of cancer, experienced a hysterectomy and “were facing the things that terrified her the most:” chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
If the statistics are saying the diagnosis of cervical cancer is common among women in their thirties, why aren’t we talking about this?
Feeling isolated, exhausted and fearing the future ahead of her, Bonhiver reached for her laptop, opened Google Docs and began to pour out her heart on the empty document — her feelings, her to-do lists, her what-ifs — that would eventually become thousands of women’s cherished companion in their cervical cancer journey. Her first words in her journal emerged at 3 a.m. — “So, I guess this is real.”
Writing and design have always been Bonhiver’s outlet to personally process the pain she has gone through, hoping that someone else will somehow identify with the same pain. Growing up as the “kid with the art kit,” writing stories, poems and family newsletters, Bonhiver believes she was born with an innate passion for art. After her uncle was killed by a drunk driver when she was in eighth grade, she wrote a personal essay called “Turning Points” and gave it to all of her family members. Her journal entries throughout her cervical cancer diagnosis served the same purpose, allowing her to be real and raw with the thoughts and emotions that flooded her mind.
“If you have a cancer diagnosis, everyone around you is experiencing your diagnosis in a way because it’s sad for them … but nobody around you has what you have,” Bonhiver said. “Your experience is unique and isolating.”
In June 2017, Bonhiver went to her annual doctor appointment and had a routine pap smear. The results of the test revealed that there were type 16 and 18 HPV lesions found in her cervix, which her doctor revealed were the lowest severity one could have. From there, Bonhiver endured a colposcopy to test abnormal cells in the cervix. Her doctor said that some bodies tend to clear this type of HPV and recommended that Bonhiver check in the following year. When Bonhiver returned for a second pap smear in June 2018, her levels were elevated. Her doctor recommended another colposcopy.
Soon after, Bonhiver saw a gynecologist to have a Loop Electro-surgical Excision Procedure, an invasive but necessary surgery that helps in the diagnosis of cervical cancer. Her LEEP in August 2018 confirmed that the cancer was present and would grow if action was not taken soon. With stage zero cancer on the verge of being invasive, Bonhiver saw an oncologist and was told that a hysterectomy was the only curative measure in September 2018. To avoid chemo and radiation, Bonhiver only had a year to get a hysterectomy: a procedure that would prevent her chances of getting pregnant in the future, but fully remove the cancer from her body.
Bonhiver had a hysterectomy March 7, 2019. She calls this day her “cancer anniversary.” Five days later, she found out that all evidence of cancer was removed from her body and no chemo or radiation was needed.
During her recovery in April 2019, she felt compelled to use her writing and design experience to write a guidebook about her cervical cancer journey, full of tips and tricks and revelations gained throughout her experience. She was a part of a Facebook group called “Cervivor” and found herself constantly responding to women’s questions about cervical cancer, such as what to expect during a LEEP. Because she wanted her book to be tailored towards women whose cervical cancer stories include chemo and radiation, she asked “Cervivor” members a number of questions.
What products did you find helpful?
What things did you bring to chemo?
What helped you through your radiation?
After eight weeks of recovery, she returned to her Digital Design Manager role at Regis Corporation working on websites, web-advertising, social media and animations. Bonhiver has always considered herself as the “Jane-of-All-Trades,” running the creative gamut in marketing strategy, copywriting and 3D styling for photoshoots through her previous roles at JL Buchanan and Eagle Brook Church.
Bonhiver spent the summer and early fall of 2019 designing and writing her book, “The Cervical Cancer Companion,” filling InDesign pages with topics such as “telling people you have cancer,” the first oncology appointment, informative cervical cancer facts, empowering mantras and medication trackers. Bonhiver also structured her book with intentional writing prompts inviting readers to process their own thoughts and pages accented with teal, the official color for cervical cancer. When she shared her passion project with her husband, Justin, he suggested that she add excerpts from her personal journals at the beginning of each section.
“In hindsight, now that the book is finished and it’s out there, I can see how necessary it was that she wrote it,” Justin said. “Not just because of the people who have read the book and found a companion in it, but also because of how the creative writing process helped provide structure and purpose to her grief.”
He was referring to the same long-running Google document that she used to empty out her thoughts all throughout her cancer journey, recovery and return to work when she couldn’t think about anything else. It was her outlet to release all her feelings in the midst of heaviness, lack of sleep or work, as she said that she “types faster than she writes.”
Other cancer survivors run races to raise money for cervical cancer research all year long, but Bonhiver’s book is her voice, always available and existing for anyone to connect with.
“When I had cancer, my big fear was that it was gonna define my life … I didn’t want my whole life to now have to be about cancer,” Bonhiver said. “So I thought, I’m going to write this book and this is how I’m going to help people.”
Bonhiver self-published her book and released it on Amazon in February 2021. She hopes that it feels like a companion that goes with women on their cervical journey and “invites them into a sisterhood that they never asked to be a part of.”
Her greatest dream for the book is to make it accessible at oncology and gynecology clinics. If women bring the book to their doctor appointments, Bonhiver imagines that she is physically going with them.
“When someone is diagnosed, that is a life-changing day,” Bonhiver said. “To be able to hand someone that book and say someone is going to walk through it with you … That is my dream.”
Along with authoring the “The Cervical Cancer Companion,” Bonhiver has designed a small selection of products to go with the book, such as treatment totes, art prints, post-op belly pillows, medical supply pouches, teal leggings, coffee tumblers and a mantra mat for the book’s online “CCC” shop.
Bonhiver’s passion for helping people through design and writing turned into GoodWinter Creative, a retro and vintage online shop selling mugs, sweatshirts, art prints and handpicked vintage vinyl records. Her shop is inspired by her “quirky interest” for old movies, jazz music and the fashion of the 50s and 60s. GoodWinter Creative also acts as Bonhiver’s new creative outlet to use her digital illustration and motion graphic skills.
In the fall of 2021, Bonhiver returned to her alma mater, Bethel University, as Adjunct Professor of Graphic Design to teach Introduction to Digital Media.
Bonhiver graduated from Bethel in 2007 with an individualized major in advertising design. Bethel was where Bonhiver developed the passion for design that remains in her today. It was where Guy Chase, the late and former Professor of Art, taught her the value of teaching herself. Bonhiver spent her college career writing music reviews for the Clarion, serving as Executive Marketing Director for the Bethel Student Association, now known as Bethel Student Government, attending chapel and fostering her love for writing while sitting on a window sill outside Benson Great Hall.
“We are excited to have Andrea work with the Art and Design Department as an adjunct professor,” Associate Professor of Graphic Design Jessica Henderson said. “She is excited about sharing her knowledge and helping students develop their skills and creative voice and we know she will bring both expertise and passion into the classroom.”
The lights of the projector turn on and the official website of “The Cervical Cancer Companion” appears on the screen in CC207 Feb. 11, the same room where Bonhiver was taught art and design fifteen years ago. She walks into the design lab in a black turtleneck with a Royal Grounds iced coffee in hand, preparing to share the process of designing and writing her book to a room of nine aspiring designers in Henderson’s Graphic Design III class. The teal book is passed around from table to table and students page through the journal entries and writing prompts. Whether Bonhiver is sharing her story on Twin Cities Live, in the classroom or with women around the world, she is using her painful experiences and artistic gifts to help others.
“When I think about art and why it’s meaningful, I think about the fact that God is creative at his core. In making us, he has made us creative,” Bonhiver said. “That’s why I love art: because you can make anything. You can create emotions and really make an impact with it.”
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