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Student exhibit highlights cancer's toll on eastern Kentucky

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Posted at 7:34 PM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 19:59:31-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky students are tackling the issue of cancer in their community through a new photo exhibit.

"Cancer in Appalachia: Viewing the Cancer Crisis in Appalachia Through the Camera Lens and the Eyes of Our Youth" was put on by the Appalachian Career Training In Oncology (ACTION) program to promote awareness of the issue.

The program aims to encourage and train the next generation of cancer researchers.

"It's a photo project that I had students do to connect what they learned about cancer in the program with what they see in their community and in their homes," said Director Nathan Vanderford. "It's really rare to find people that don't know someone who has had cancer including these really young people."

Vanderford says Kentucky has some of the highest cancer rates in the nation and eastern Kentucky sees the worst of it.

"It's not just one problem. It's many. There's health care, access issues, health care, engagement issues, health behavior issues, and more," said Vanderford.

That's why they're trying to encourage young people to help spread awareness about the issue and pursue careers in cancer research.

"We need more cancer researchers, cancer health care providers, cancer outreach education specialists, basically anybody who touches cancer, we need more of in Kentucky, and particularly those from eastern Kentucky where the rates are so high. So, we absolutely are working toward preparing these students to move into those careers," said Vanderford.

On the walls of the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, there are more than 50 pictures, including risk factors like toxins, items that remind the students of relatives with cancer, and gravestones of people who've died.

One student highlighted Dierdre Wells, a Hazard Kentucky native who lost her right leg to cancer.

"My cancer is kind of rare compared to most cancers that's in eastern Kentucky, but you don't often see a person missing a body you know, visibly missing something because they've gone through cancer," said Wells.

Wells hopes seeing the photo of her in the exhibit inspires others to pay attention to their pain.

"I knew the pain wasn't normal, that my body was telling me something and I was just putting it off," said Wells. "I wished I had listened to my body because eight months was a long time to go with the type of pain I had and if my leg hadn't broken, I don't know how much longer I would have still continued to put it off and by then it could have been too late."

The exhibit will stay up in Lexington until next Wednesday, November 3.

There's also an exhibit in Morehead at the Kentucky Folk Art Center through November 19.