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See hope: Local artists use their craft to inspire cancer patients at Lime Spring Outpatient Center

By Carolyn Kimmel

When Linda Billet quit her job as a mail carrier 15 years ago to pursue her dream of being a glass artisan, her mother was her biggest cheerleader.

“She loved everything I made, and she understood how I loved to use my art to make people happy,” said Billet, a Hummelstown resident whose glass mosaics will grace the walls of Penn State Health Lime Spring Outpatient Center ― Hematology/Oncology in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County.

In just four months from diagnosis to passing, Billet lost her mother to pancreatic cancer, which means she knows the feel of the spaces where her art will hang – where hope and fear dance an unwieldy duet and the stomach drops when test results return bad news.

“My pieces are about hope and ongoing life,” said Billet as she points out the “grandmother” tree in the middle of one of her mosaics and the “nurse log” – a fallen tree near it. “Did you know that a ‘nurse log’ is a real thing? It’s called that because it supports new life by giving habitat to the seedlings.”

The effort to involve local artists in decorating the wall spaces at Lime Spring Outpatient Center is intentional. Center Stage Arts in Health offers a variety of art and music programs throughout Penn State Health, based on the belief that thoughtfully chosen artistic engagement is an integral part of health and well-being, said Keeley Engle, coordinator of Center Stage – Penn State Cancer Institute Arts in Health.

The glass mosaic shows a forest scene with a center tree and a log fallen near it and plenty of flora and fauna, a waterfall, a deer, snails and mushrooms in the background.

Billet’s mosaic features a “grandmother tree” and a fallen tree near it that provides habitat to seedlings.

After a selection process that included theme, interviews and surveying of stakeholders, Center Stage commissioned Billet’s two glass mosaics for the infusion therapy room at Penn State Health Lime Spring Outpatient Center ― Hematology/Oncology and, for the hallways, six large prints of Lancaster Country landmarks by regional artists Margaret Thorn, Julia Swartz, John Schmidt, Paris Wyatt Llanso, Paul Faust and John W. Walker.

“We find it important to involve both staff and patients in this process, as it allows them to connect with and inform a unified selection of art for the space that they share,” Engle said. “A wish to convey messages of hope, care and peace through this art installation was the overarching goal.”

Center Stage also strives for a diverse representation of artists, imagery, styles and mediums to choose from so that the selected art feels inclusive of everyone who may view it, she said.

Before Billet started creating, she met with cancer patients to ask them what kind of art would make them feel better. They mentioned animals, water and nature.

The process she uses to create can be arduous – with cutting sheets of glass, fusing pieces and arranging in just the right order and pattern – but Billet loves every moment of it

“I try to put things in my work that entertain your eyes, so that you are looking at it for more than a second. I hope to give patients something to think about that’s happy and positive,” she said. “It makes me so excited to see the piece begin to develop, and it’s very therapeutic to work out my emotions as I create.”

Piles of colored, cut glass are her painter’s palette. Into every project, Billet puts something orange – in the Lime Spring mosaics, it’s the fungus on a log and a lone monarch butterfly – because that was her mother’s favorite color.

“I know my art can’t save anyone’s life,” she said. “But I do hope it nourishes their soul.”

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