Spotlight on Wonder Woman

Bio-Medical Library's Breast Cancer Superheroes art exhibit

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the Bio-Medical Library’s exhibit in the Art @ Bio-Med program, featuring artwork by Barbara Porwit.

by Rachel Hawkins

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. About one in eight women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.

The good news is that many women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. Currently, at the Bio-Medical Library’s exhibit in the Art @ Bio-Med program, we are sharing the stories of breast cancer survivors through the series of paintings of Breast Cancer Superheroes by artist Barbara Porwit. The exhibit has been extended through Friday, October 19 (exhibit information).

Breast Cancer Superheros Art Exhibit at the Bio-Medical Library
Breast Cancer Superheros Art Exhibit at the Bio-Medical Library

Inspired by many close friends undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, artist Barbara Porwit saw women turning health challenges into personal power. The concept for her Breast Cancer Superhero Project emerged and resulted in six stunning, large-scale oil paintings that combine pop art, positive psychology, and the universal hero’s journey. 

While most people think of pink ribbons during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, at the Bio-Medical Library, we now think of flashes of light, brilliant colors, capes, and even wings. The survival story of Katy Tessman Stanoch: Wonder Woman, our last in a series of news features, will perfectly exemplify how our image of Breast Cancer Awareness Month has changed.

Katy Tessman Stanoch: Wonder Woman 

Wife, mother, songwriter, children’s book author, early childhood music teacher 
Diagnosed in 2009, one month before her 40th birthday
Double mastectomy, chemotherapy, reconstruction

As she began the fight of and for her life, Katy instinctively gravitated to a unique warrior’s costume. As she was taken into surgery to remove her breasts, she chose symbolic garb that would represent her hope, faith and optimism. She was wrapped in a prayer shawl with a tiara on her head. 

She awoke with a body that she didn’t recognize and was at first afraid to even view. 

Katy had been nursing her youngest son at the time she was diagnosed. Her breasts, which had nourished her children, now imperiled her future. 

“I loved my breasts, but I hated the cancer,” she said. “They had to go.” 

Although she felt violated and vulnerable, she was unwilling to ever regard herself as a victim. 

Wonder Woman: Katy Tessman Stanoch. Artwork by Barbara Porwit.
Wonder Woman: Katy Tessman Stanoch. Artwork by Barbara Porwit.

Today she sees herself as victorious. 

“Breast cancer brought out the fighter in me,” she said. “I went into warrior mode. I had an enemy and I told it, if you are going to invade my body, I am going to take you on.” 

Tall and always comfortable with her height, Katy stands larger than life in her heroine’s boots. Her tiara is a headpiece and a garment stitched with fervent prayer is transformed into her cape. 

She is striding confidently into the future and whatever it holds. 

“I am proud of my fight and deserve to feel proud of myself,” she said. “I am a wonder.” 

Drawing out the Superhero within

Artist’s notes 

I met Katy many years ago, when she was a temp at the office where I worked. Katy is almost a foot taller than me, and as soon as we started brainstorming about her portrait, I “saw” her standing, life size and and full length. 

Amazingly she already had a photo of herself in a storebought costume, that was perfect for me to work from. 

But with each subject there will be individualization: Katy REALLY wanted the pink ribbon on her tiara (“That is IT!”) and she wanted her cape red on the outside, pink on the inside. (“I never liked the color pink. Now I wear pink with pride.”) 

I also reworked her torso to have the Lynda Carter eagle, and, of course, perfect Wonder Woman boots. 

Katy said this image represented her return. She is stepping forward. The ‘POW!’ background makes her fully present, fully capable. I worked for an expression that says, ‘I’m here!’ 

-Barbara Porwit

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