A Painter’s Instinct, Intuition and Inspiration – Cancer Thriver

When Suzanne Sanderson, a Denver artist and mother of two, found a lump in her breast, her doctor assured her it was a benign mass and no cause for alarm. But a persistent gut feeling kept nudging at her, saying it was something more serious.

A few months later, while visiting a plastic surgeon for an unrelated matter, she brought the issue up again and, because of her concern, the doctor decided to remove the mass and have it biopsied. The results revealed she had breast cancer.

Refusing to be debilitated by such a frightening diagnosis, Sanderson found inspiration for her art.

“For me, as an artist, it [was] a time where I could really think about… what is my purpose? Why do I paint?” said Sanderson.

Struggling through treatment and facing the very real possibility that she would lose her hair, Sanderson found a new definition of personal beauty and vitality. She recalls, “I was looking through a Nordstrom catalog and I was feeling bad, feeling sorry for myself and I saw some women who lost their hair. They were just kind of in the back. They had jewelry on and I thought, ‘wait a sec, I might lose my hair, but there is a lot more to me. Maybe there is something here I need to look at.’”

From this revelation, a short series of portraits developed featuring bright and vivacious bald women. Unlike her previous, more literal artwork, these new pieces were colorful and impressionistic. It represented what she describes as, “the layers of things that were happening [to me]… and the spirituality of things I started getting connected to.” Painting became a fresh inspiration in her life. She admits that “everything in [her] world… up to that point had been very one-dimensional.”

Eleven years later, Sanderson is cancer-free. However, she rejects the common moniker “cancer survivor” when telling her story.  Instead, she prefers to be known as a “cancer thriver,” relishing every day in the love she has for life.

For more information on breast cancer and early detection, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation.