Cancer in Appalachia: A Collection of Youth-Told Stories, Volume One

Cancer in Appalachia: A Collection of Youth-Told Stories, Volume One
Item# BB444

Book Summary

Edited by Nathan L. Vanderford
  and Holly Burke
240 pages
6 x 9 inches
ISBN 978-1-953058-91-1
Published December 2023
Fiction / Short Stories / Poetry

Cancer ravages the citizens of Kentucky.

The state has the greatest cancer burden in the country with the highest rates of new cases and deaths occurring in Appalachian Kentucky. The high rates of cancer are caused by health behaviors, such as tobacco use, and economic and social conditions, including poverty and insufficient healthcare infrastructure and access. Behind every cancer case lies individual stories of devastation.

Cancer in Appalachia: A Collection of Youth-Told Stories is an anthology of fictional stories—short stories and a few poems—about cancer in Appalachian Kentucky. The stories were written by a group of high school and undergraduate students from Appalachian Kentucky. The authors leveraged their own lived experiences and knowledge of cancer to convey fictional, yet highly realistic stories about the pain and disruption that cancer causes individuals, families, and entire communities in the Appalachian region. The stories are powerful, emotional, inspiring, and educational.

The authors are participants or alumni of the Youth Enjoy Science National Cancer Institute-funded Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program located at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center. As participants or alumni of this program, students are preparing to pursue cancer-related careers and are working to reduce Kentucky’s cancer burden now and in the future.

Through the voice of youth from the region, we hope these stories bring awareness to the cancer disparities in Appalachian Kentucky and inspire ACTION that will address the issues that drive the high rates of the disease. We hope you enjoy the stories.

For more information about ACTION, visit the program’s website:

About the Editors

Nathan L. Vanderford was born and raised in southern-middle Tennessee in a rural Appalachian county. He attended the University of Kentucky (UK) as a first-generation college student where he earned both a bachelor of science degree in agricultural biotechnology and a doctor of philosophy degree in biochemistry. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular physiology at Vanderbilt University. He also completed a master of business administration degree at Midway University.

Nathan is currently an associate professor at the UK College of Medicine in the Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology. He also holds several administrative positions including director of the Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program, director of administration for the Center for Cancer and Metabolism, and assistant director for Research and Education for the Markey Cancer Center. In these positions, he facilitates cancer research and education initiatives across the university.

Nathan is an award-winning teacher and mentor who has a strong track record of creating impactful experiential programs for students, including the ACTION Program. His research focuses on understanding the cancer disparities that exist in Appalachian Kentucky, health promotion, and cancer education and training. He has published in leading scientific journals including Nature, Nature Biotechnology, and Science, and his work has been covered by media outlets including the Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, U.S. News & World Report, and The Atlantic.

Nathan lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife and two children. He can be reached through his website at or on Twitter @nlvanderford.

Holly Burke moved to Kentucky in 2008, and grew up in Versailles. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in middle grades education specializing in English and social studies in 2016 and a master’s degree in school counseling in 2020 from Morehead State University.

Holly has worked with Kentucky students in a variety of ways including in her language arts classroom from 2016 to 2022 and through the Upward Bound programs at Morehead State University. She is currently the program coordinator for the ACTION Program at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Holly lives in Clark County, Kentucky, with her husband, son, and two hound dogs.

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