She’s a survivor

Lea Wagner

Photo By shannon rooney

Lea Wagner, 68, paints large acrylic florals and abstracts. She’s also a survivor of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), about which she’s found there’s limited awareness. It took a year before she was properly diagnosed with IBC. At the time Wagner received her diagnosis nine years ago, there was a 5 percent survival rate. Now, due to advances made in diagnosing and treatment, the survival rate is 45 percent. “Statistically, I should have died,” she said. “I’m really fortunate.” Wagner contends women don’t know enough about IBC and she’s on a one-woman mission to educate women about this illness. Residing on a third of an acre in Chico, Wagner spends a lot of time outdoors when she’s not in her studio painting. She has two grown children and five grandchildren. Wagner is available to talk about IBC with individual women or groups. She can be reached through her blog at

How long have you been an artist?

I was born an artist. I started as an oil painter. Then, in the early ’60s, I used polymers—the drying time was unbelievably short compared to oils. The polymers segued into acrylics. My paintings look a lot like oils, as I use a lot of oil-painting techniques in my work. I want to make an educational DVD for teaching acrylic painting. And I might teach some classes at the Art Center.

Do you have any hobbies?

I enjoy gardening. I just love flowers, and I like the exercise and all the creative projects you can do.

Where did you grow up?

I’m a product of the Air Force—my father was a staff officer and pilot—so I grew up on Air Force bases with all of the privileges of Air Force life. Since I married someone in the Air Force, I lived the Air Force life until age 38. It was a shock to begin to live the civilian life.

What got you through your bout with cancer?

I’m convinced it was my creative spirit that got me through.

Did your spiritual beliefs help you?

Yes. I’m a practitioner of Science of Mind, and I’m a member of the Center for Spiritual Living of Greater Chico. I’m a deep believer in mind over matter and inclusiveness in religion. I just absolutely embrace it.

What should women know about IBC?

If your doctor doesn’t know about IBC, consider getting a different doctor. There are clinics popping up across the nation that are making IBC their focus. Women should be asking about this. Too many women don’t take charge of their own health.