UK HealthCare

Multimedia Project Spotlights Cancer Burden in Appalachia

Clint Orme
Noah Stull
Appalachia's Burden, ACTION Program project

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 14, 2022) — We all know someone who has been touched by cancer.

This unfortunate reality is especially true in Appalachian communities in Kentucky, which bears some of the highest cancer rates in the United States.

“Appalachia’s Burden” is a new online project created through a collaboration between the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center’s Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program and Western Kentucky University’s  (WKU) photojournalism program. The goal of the collaboration is to bring Appalachia cancer patients’ stories to life.

“Shouldering the weight of cancer, not just from an individual perspective, but from the perspective of the patient’s family and community is important to highlight,” said Nathan Vanderford, Ph.D., director of the ACTION program. “This first-person narrative project evokes an understanding of what Kentuckians — particularly those living in Appalachia — face when they are diagnosed with this disease."

Various factors contribute to the Appalachian region’s health disparities, including physician shortages, challenges in health care engagement, poverty, higher rates of tobacco use and health conditions such as obesity. Early detection and regular health care screenings can make the difference between life and death.

“Working on this project has been incredibly meaningful to our students, and it is very personal for me,” said Tim Broekema, professor of journalism at WKU and creative director of "Appalachia’s Burden." “I know firsthand how quickly life can change with a cancer diagnosis. We hope that documenting this experience for those living in Eastern Kentucky will have a lasting impact for others.”

The project recently won the 2021-2022 Hearst Multimedia Digital News/Enterprise Story team competition, a national competition of the Heart Journalism awards program.

Visit the project at

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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