Arts & Culture

ACTION Students Document Cancer Crisis in Appalachia in New Photography Exhibit

image of students looking at photographs at exhibit.
Image of students at art exhibition
image of lard in front of decorative tray
Image of hard hat in rocking chair

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 21, 2021) — ­Students from the Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) program will showcase their photographs in an exhibit called “Cancer in Appalachia: Viewing the Cancer Crisis in Appalachia Through the Camera Lens and the Eyes of Our Youth” at Lexington’s Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center (DAC) and the Kentucky Folk Art Center (KFAC) on the campus of Morehead State University.

The exhibit features photos taken by ACTION students in their communities that they feel reflect the high cancer rates in Appalachian Kentucky, which has some of the highest cancer rates in the nation. The exhibit runs at DAC Sept. 10 through Oct. 30 and at KFAC Oct. 1 through Nov. 19, 2021.

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.

“We hope that viewers will consider the significant cancer problem in Kentucky and its causes and consequences through viewing this work,” said Nathan Vanderford, director of the ACTION program and assistant director for education and research at the UK Markey Cancer Center. “We hope that some people will think about their own cancer risk factors and how to modify behaviors that can reduce their cancer risk.”

“Through these images, our ACTION students are sharing cancer education, raising awareness and building community that stretches far beyond the Appalachian region of Kentucky,” says Jason Akhtarekhavari, manager for UK Arts in HealthCare.

“Having this exhibit run concurrently in Lexington and Morehead is an important opportunity to amplify our cancer education and awareness message across two regions of the Commonwealth,” said Vanderford. “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.” Vanderford notes that the images are also posted on Instagram (@cancer_in_appalachia) to reach an even larger audience.

The ACTION program was started by Vanderford in 2016 and provides advanced cancer education and training to high school and UK undergrads from Appalachian Kentucky. In addition to focusing on cancer education, ACTION also conducts outreach and community engagement to increase awareness of cancer disparities in Kentucky and promote the importance of cancer education and training.

Students whose work is on display in the exhibits include:

  • Rachel Collins – Clay County
  • Nolan Marcum – Carter County
  • Natalie Barker – Elliott County
  • Kinley Lewis – Elliott County
  • Katelyn Nigro – Whitley County
  • Kaitlin Schumaker – Laurel County
  • Holly Dickens – Rowan County
  • Haleigh Thompson – Lawrence County
  • Brianna Reyes – Carter County
  • Andrew Davison – Rowan County
  • Alexia Shamaeizadeh – Johnson County
  • Susanna Goggans – Johnson County
  • Zane Whitaker– Magoffin County
  • Wyatt McCarty – Rowan County
  • Nathan Hogg – Rowan County
  • Matthew Sanders – Laurel County
  • Makinna Caudill – Magoffin County
  • Kassidy Burke – Lawrence County
  • Karlee Compton – Montgomery County
  • John Staton – Elliott County
  • Hanah Whisenant – Lawrence County
  • Chezney Boothe – Perry County
  • Isabella Dunn – Magoffin County
  • Allisa Pack - Lawrence County
  • Alexandra Combs – Wolfe County

In order to be eligible to join the ACTION program, students must be one of the following:

  • Enrolled in a high school within Appalachian Kentucky as a freshman or sophomore beginning in August 2022.
  • A current 12th grade student at a high school within Appalachia Kentucky accepted as an incoming freshman at the University of Kentucky.
  • A current University of Kentucky freshman, sophomore or junior.

Find more information on how to apply or get involved at

The exhibit is supported by UK Arts in HealthCare, CREATE, Markey Cancer Center, UK HealthCare, and the National Cancer Institute.

The ACTION Program is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R25CA221765. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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