Jen Costello's Carved Canes

Diagnosed at age 4 with Wilms’ tumor, she underwent extensive radiation treatments to combat what was then a deadly cancer. As a result, she has degeneration in her back muscles, chronic nerve damage in her legs and a 40 percent curvature of the spine. Ms. Costello resisted using a cane as long as she could but finally was forced to use one and wear leg braces. She says medical canes made her feel old. About a year ago, she decided to make one herself.

“I hated people staring at me,” she said. “I thought a cane would distract people from my braces.”
Though she had never worked with wood before, she began carving and painting old stair banisters her brother gave her.
“I was amazed I did it. Not carrying some clanky medical cane just makes you feel better.”
All are made from salvaged wood and other materials, including door handles. Though she thought about selling them, she ends up either using them or giving them away. She sent photos of a carved cane she calls Stars & Stripes, her Happy Cane covered with colorful figures like those of artist Keith Haring and a Cube cane “because all canes don’t have to be round.”

First Gallery Show

Women in Art 2015

Finally, two canes — “Child's Play” and “Cubix Cane” — made of carved and painted wood by Jen Costello, show that form can follow function, with a touch of humor added in.“(Costello) has a disability, which brought her to making canes, which she also makes for veterans and others,” says Grimm, who met the artist the night of the exhibit's opening reception (Nov. 19). “They are made from recycle materials, and they are just amazing.”

Honorable Mention 

Jen Costello is Good at Designing, Carving, and Painting Canes for Herself and Others with Disabilities
Today I’m going to let Jen tell her whole story in her own words (click to listen). Thank you Jen for this and creating some gorgeous canes:


The ReUse People of America's national contest in California.

"Jen transforming building materials and wine bottles into hourglasses"

Click on the Title to see the news coverage on KDKA, 

By Heather Abraham

At just four years old, Jen Costello had a very grown up problem.

She was diagnosed with cancer.

Treatment in the 1970’s wasn’t as advanced as it is today. Doctors had to use a large amount of chemotherapy.

Jen’s cancer was cured, but the treatment damaged most of the muscles on the left side of her back.

As the years went by, she had other complications, and needed a cane to help her walk. But medical canes made her feel self-conscious, and uncomfortable.

That’s when she decided to make a cane for herself.

“After a while people weren’t looking at my leg braces, they were looking at my cane, and knowing that feeling — I like to share that with others,” she said.

Now, she makes special walking canes for others using recycled materials. All incredibly detailed and beautiful as they are functional.

Monday, Jen took one of her special canes to a military veteran in Jeannette, Sgt. Russell Bell. He was injured in Vietnam, and Jen crafted a cane just for him.

“I put the service, the weapon he used, the helmet, different patches. So it’s about him and about his service,” she explained.

“It’s absolutely fantastic, I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. I will cherish this as long as I live,” he said.

Russell wants to remind everyone, the Fourth of July is the perfect time to remember our nation’s veterans.

“Take time to remember that what you are doing today has been bought with the blood of men and women who served our country with honor and distinction.”

Photo by John Howard 

Mark is the first person I presented with a custom cane

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Anyone who has survived or living with cancer has their own experiences and stories. My story of cancer started in the spring of 1973 when I was four years old. Many individuals don’t remember what they did at that age but I can’t forget. The air was crisp, the sky was blue and the yard was filled with children playing on a gym set of swings, slide and climbing bars. The gym set was the main attraction in the neighborhood. Each child was pushing and shoving to have their turn on the slide. I remember grabbing the side handle of the slide while climbing each step. I reached the top of the slide while preparing myself for the ride down. I felt hands pushing on my back as I slid down with a force to the ground. The tears started to flow as I lay on ground. My mother ran over quickly and scooped me up to comfort the pain and tears. She carried me in the house and thought a bowl of pasta sauce with bread would calm me down. I remember it being Thursday because we had pasta and red sauce every Thursday. Being placed on the couch I refused to eat anything and there was no comfort. The concern continued to grow and mother drove me to an aunt’s house that was a nurse to get checked. The conclusion was I had a ruptured spleen according to the aunt. They drove me to the local hospital which the doctors performed an operation to find the problem with my pain and stomach. The operation illustrated a lot more than a problem with the spleen. The doctors found cancer throughout my body.

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Lean On Me Project gives away free canes to those in need


For The Bulletin.

Lean On Me Project gives away free canes to those in need

For The Bulletin

Jen Costello’s physical condition got the point where she needed to use a cane, but she didn’t like the medical styles that were available. “They made me feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I looked for a stylish cane, but I couldn’t find any.” What she saw on the Internet were more for show and wouldn’t provide the support she needed. “They had given me leg braces and I felt like Forrest Gump,” she said. “I told my wife Deb, ‘I’m going to make a cane’ and she said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I had never carved anything in my life.” That was in 2014. Since then Costello, who lives in Jeannette, has carved 38 canes, each one artistically unique. She kept 17, and so far, has given 21 away.

The row of custom carved canes propped against a wall in Jen Costello's Penn Township home offer an eye-catching, fun vibe, along with their function.

Some light up. One is shaped like a No. 2 school pencil. Another is covered with carved emoji faces. Others feature aliens, King Kong, or military motifs.

That vibe is purposeful, says their creator, and the canes are meant to serve both as a conversation piece and a boost to their users' self-esteem.
Costello, 48, was diagnosed at the age of four with Wilms Tumor cancer. She survived, but says the massive amounts of chemotherapy and radiation she received left her with weakened back muscles, nerve damage in her legs and a curvature of her spine.
In 2014, she began using leg braces and a medical cane."It made me feel bad inside," she says.

In her Westmoreland County home, Jen Costello clasps her hand around what looks like a prop from “The Twilight Zone.”

A blue alien with large eyes — reminiscent of Cold War-era science fiction — creates the base, and at the top, part of a Christmas bulb is the dome of a UFO. For added drama, a glittery plastic spaceship appears to beam up a miniature cow figurine.

This fanciful work of art is a functional walking cane.

More canes lean against a buffet table behind Ms. Costello — King Kong climbing a building, fish frozen in clear resin, and emojis stacked on top of one another — all carved from wood.

A childhood cancer survivor, Ms. Costello, 48, of Penn Township, said she ditched her “cold metal” medical cane for one that was a conversation starter. Her go-to cane is painted to look like a No. 2 pencil.


January 2018 and June 2018