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Davis Journal

Hopebox Theatre founder named 2024 Athena Award recipient

Feb 08, 2024 02:11PM ● By Becky Ginos
Jan Williams is a four time cancer survivor. She started Hopebox Theatre as a way to help others who are battling cancer. - Williams stands in front of the theater’s Wall of Hope that has the names of everyone they’ve honored. Courtesy photos

Jan Williams is a four time cancer survivor. She started Hopebox Theatre as a way to help others who are battling cancer. - Williams stands in front of the theater’s Wall of Hope that has the names of everyone they’ve honored. Courtesy photos

KAYSVILLE—Jan Williams is a four time cancer survivor. Her journey led her to creating the Hopebox Theatre in Kaysville with the mission of “Bringing Hope to the Families Battling Cancer through the Performing Arts.” For her contribution to improving the quality of life for others in the community, the Davis Chamber Women in Business named her as recipient of the 2024 Athena Award.

“I feel so honored,” said Williams. “I’m so impressed by the caliber of ladies there (chamber) all trying to do the right thing to make a business work.”

According to the chamber, the prestigious Athena International Award is given to individuals who “demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession,” and provide valuable service by contributing time and energy to the community and assisting women in realizing their full leadership potential.

Williams had her first bout with cancer when she was expecting her second son. “It was melanoma and I had to have surgery while I was pregnant,” she said. “I had the baby successfully but two years later it came back.”

She was living in California at the time. “It was hard treatment,” Williams said. “I had to come home because I needed help. I had a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. It was rough.”

Williams said she thought that was the end of her cancer story. “I was a hairdresser. I had a little singing group. I have been involved with theater and dance all of my life.”

In 2014, I got a different cancer, she said. “It was stage 3 ovarian cancer. It was not related to the first cancer. When I had a hysterectomy they didn’t take my ovaries and I got cancer. I had to start chemo again.”

By this time, Williams had formed a musical theater group called Showstoppers. “I grew it to 300 kids,” she said. “It was an amazing experience but when I got ovarian cancer I had to let it go. The treatment was too hard.”

Toward the end of her treatment, Williams said she was not doing well. “I had lost all of my hair and chemo was taking a toll. I was pretty down about all that I had worked for and I missed the kids and teaching. It was super hard at home.”

One night the doorbell rang and when she opened the door, her students were there and started singing. “They sang all of my favorite music. It touched my soul and brought me so much hope. It was a great and wonderful experience when I had felt so dark.”

Williams said she couldn’t sleep that night because she was on a high. “My mind was going and I was thinking ‘if this brings me hope that maybe I can get through this how can I give others this feeling?’ It was so powerful to me.” 

After having chemo all day, Williams said she would go see a musical production when she could. “I thought if I could find a small box theater I could put on a show for them (cancer patients). It became the Hopebox Theatre. I wrote it down and thought I need to get this going.”

Williams said one of her friends told her if she ever wanted to open a theater to let her know because her husband had always wanted to do one.

“I called him and before I met with him I remembered that before I got cancer I had come across an old church. Just out of curiosity I went by and it was for sale. I met with Curtis Dalton and pitched it to him.”

Williams took him by the place, she said. “I could see this look of apprehension. I said ‘you’re afraid I’m going to get cancer and die. I could get hit by a car and my life would be over. Just go for it.’ He got on board, his mother passed away when he was young from cancer.”

They remodeled the church and made it into the theater, she said. “It was an amazing experience. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

In 2015 the theater opened but then Williams got cancer again. “It was stage 3 colon cancer,” she said. “They think I had it while I had ovarian cancer, they just didn’t know it.”

Williams had a different treatment, she said. “I had this little fanny pack with chemo. We’d do the show and I’d be sick so I couldn’t drive home.”

However, she was able to keep Hopebox going. “This place brings life to someone in the community who is battling cancer.”

The cast nominates recipients then they dedicate the show to the person who is selected, she said. “It gives them something to look forward to and hold onto.”

It may be a small theater but it’s doing great things, said Williams. “I meet warriors battling cancer. It’s an honor to help any way I can. I’ve been there several times.”