Cancer in Appalachia examined in art exhibit, book

Apr. 18—ASHLAND — A collection of art and a book of stories by young Kentuckians from area counties are meant to communicate a heavy message.

The art exhibit, which will continue through May 30 at the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center, is titled "Cancer in Appalachia: Viewing the Cancer Crisis in Appalachia Through the Camera Lens and the Eyes of Our Youth."

The Highlands exhibit contains about 30 pieces, but Program Coordinator Holly Burke said the pieces rotate and the entire exhibit contains 80 pieces by artists from Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) program depicting high cancer rates in their area; Kentucky has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.

The book, titled "Cancer in Appalachia: A Collection of Youth-Told Stories," was the subject of a reading recently at the museum. Limited supplies are available at the museum; they also can be found on Amazon or from the publisher, Butler Books.

"Students involved in the Appalachian Career Training in Oncology program were given the task to take photographs of things that remind them of cancer, including physical objects/places or metaphorical interpretations," Burke said. "Through the project, students connected what they learned about cancer in the ACTION program with their lived experiences, including what they experienced in their homes and communities."

Many of the images highlight the prevalence of tobacco in Appalachian Kentucky, the presence of harmful carcinogens, including those related to the coal industry, the abundance of unhealthy food options and eating habits, risky behaviors — including tobacco use — health care access inequities and items that remind participants of family and friends that have had cancer.

"The exhibits serve as a community engagement activity where viewers learn about the high cancer rates in Appalachian Kentucky, along with the causes and consequences of those high rates," Burke said. "I think the project is very impactful, especially when you consider the majority of the photos were taken by high school sophomores and juniors. The students did an amazing job capturing issues related to the high rates of cancer in their own homes and communities."

Nathan Vanderford, director of the ACTION program and assistant director for education and research at the UK Markey Cancer Center, said he hopes the exhibit and book will have a part in helping raise awareness.

"We hope some people will think about their own cancer risk factors and how to modify behaviors that can reduce their cancer risk," Vanderford said. "I think this speaks to the mission of the university, UK HealthCare and the Markey Cancer Center serving a critical role for all Kentuckians and beyond. And it is a huge honor for our students to be involved in a multi-location art exhibit."

This is the only section being displayed in Ashland currently; pieces of the exhibit are in Martine's Pastries in Lexington and in the Healthy Kentucky Research Building at the University of Kentucky.

Students whose work is on display in the exhibits include:

Carter County

Nolan Marcum

Brianna Reyes

Elliott County

Natalie Barker

Kinley Lewis

John Staton

Johnson County

Alexia Shamaeizadeh

Susanna Goggans

Lawrence County

Haleigh Thompson

Kassidy Burke

Hanah Whisenant

Allisa Pack

Magoffin County

Zane Whitaker

Makinna Caudill

Isabella Dunn

Rowan County

Holly Dickens

Andrew Davison

Wyatt McCarty

Nathan Hogg

To join the ACTION program, students must be in high school in Appalachian Kentucky as a freshman or sophomore in August 2022; a current 12th-grader at an Appalachia Kentucky and accepted as an incoming freshman at the University of Kentucky; or a current University of Kentucky freshman, sophomore or junior.

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