Art with Compassion

This Penn State Abington art student combines creativity and compassion to help women recovering from mastectomies.

Delicate fabrics and soft lighting stand in stark contrast to the sterile file cabinets filled with doctors' notes and health insurance forms in visual artist Susan Stanton's workspace.

This is the place where her craft merges with a healing practice for breast cancer patients. While pursuing her art degree at Penn State Abington, Stanton works at a boutique that sells lingerie and prostheses for women in various stages of cancer treatment and recovery.

She found herself drawn to the clients who came to Jay Ann Intimates for breast form fittings.

"The loss of a body part can be traumatic and life altering, but it is not their identity and does not define them," she says. 

Stanton found mentors in the shop's mastectomy fitters and enrolled in industry-mandated classes. She even traveled to Detroit to study body and chest wall casting, which aids in the creation of custom breast forms, before earning her mastectomy fitter certification in 2013.

"The loss of a body part can be traumatic and life altering, but it is not their identity and does not define them."—Susan Stanton

Stanton says that being an artist informs her fitting practice.

"It's a very visual process. I have to be creative when evaluating a woman's surgical site and making decisions about the type of prosthetic," she says.

"Observing and assessing what will work visually and comfort wise for balance and symmetry is a key part of fitting."

"Every learning experience helps me develop my own voice and presence as an artist."—Susan Stanton

Stanton, who at one point considered a nursing career, describes her work as fulfilling. 

"It is a great feeling when my clients leave the shop a little more confident in their skin," she says. "In our society, so much emphasis is placed on outer beauty and youth. The women I meet are a constant reminder that true beauty radiates from the inside." 

While working at the boutique, Stanton also flourished at Abington. She was one of twenty-four students hand-picked by faculty to enroll in a groundbreaking multidisciplinary course, and her art earned a place in the permanent collection at Abington—"a place that is very special and close to my heart," she says. 

Stanton also accompanied Yvonne Love, assistant professor of art, and four Abington students on a weeklong residency in Maine. They lived and created communally at a former New York art dealer's home and soaked up knowledge about careers and the gallery scene from their hostess and Love. 

"Every learning experience helps me develop my own voice and presence as an artist," Stanton says of her experiences.

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington is located in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—fifteen miles north of Center City—and enrolls almost 4,000 full- and part-time students. The campus offers eighteen undergraduate majors or the option to start any of Penn State's more than 160 majors and finish at University Park campus. In addition, students at Penn State Abington have the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research, global programs, and an honors program.