WHITESBURG – Here in Kentucky, more people die from cancer per capita than in any other state, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now, one local radio host who survived his own bout with cancer is hoping to share his region’s story of battling a deadly disease that has likely touched every Eastern Kentuckian in some way.
Sam Neace, a resident of Lower Second Creek in Perry County, was himself diagnosed with testicular cancer in January 2008. It was a fight that changed his life, but also one that would leave him with a story to tell others of how he was able to overcome the odds, and maybe they could, too. It was a story that he knew hundreds of other cancer survivors could tell as well.
While undergoing treatment in a hospital cancer ward, Neace saw others going through similar situations as his own, children and adults alike. And then there were others with whom he talked who shared their stories of young people remaining positive in the face of a potentially fatal diagnosis, and others whose family came together because of it.
“I noticed back when I was going through cancer, and then after the cancer treatments were over, talking to other people who had been through the same thing, that every story was just fascinating,” Neace explained.
Neace recently began working for WMMT radio in Whitesburg, and knew then that he would likely have a platform to get these stories out and into the conscience of the local communities. “It’s the kind of radio station that presents an opportunity where you can do something like that,” he said.
The first episode of his “Mountain Survivors” series aired in early September, and on the first Monday of each month Neace continues to interview cancer survivors and family members of those stricken with the disease. It’s an effort that he hopes can inspire others who may be going through treatments to know there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, or those who may have just experienced symptoms to not wait to visit a doctor.
One guest was Neace’s sister-in-law, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her situation was made worse, he noted, because by the time her correct diagnosis was made, the cancer had spread. She was young, and was told by physicians that she was too young to have breast cancer, which delayed her diagnosis. Neace said it’s stories like this that he hopes to tell that can get his audience thinking about early detection, which he noted in most cases is key in a patient’s treatment.
“That’s the kind of thing I want to accomplish,” Neace said, “either families out there who are going through this, they hear and they’re inspired to keep fighting, or somebody out there hears a piece of information that helps them if they find a lump or if they think they have cancer, they go right then and have something done about it.”
Indeed, according to the World Health Organization, early detection greatly increases the chances of successful treatment. One component to early detection is education, or knowledge of warning signs and symptoms.
While Neace added that he also hopes to learn something from his guests, he hopes his listeners will be the real benefactor of beginning and continuing a real and candid conversation about an all-too-often fatal disease, but in many cases is treatable. He expects to discuss some facts about cancer that may not be as well-known, like instances of breast cancer in men or the target ages of testicular cancer.
“When I was 15 years old, I had no idea that I was in the target age group to get cancer,” Neace explained. “But it’s that way with testicular cancer.”
The show’s main focus will be the Eastern Kentucky and mountain region, he continued, but added that he also plans to interview others from outside the region at times.
The Lexington Cancer Foundation recently awarded the station a grant to continue airing “Mountain Survivors,” which is the first bit of funding the series has received. But even without the initial funding, selling the idea to the station’s bosses wasn’t hard to do. “The first time I mentioned it, they said let’s do it,” Neace said.
From there, he began booking guests, which so far hasn’t been an issue. With the region’s cancer rates as high as they are, there are also a lot of survivors in these mountains, some of whom have been willing to share their stories.
“We need people who are willing to talk … to get the message out there,” Neace added.
“Mountain Survivors” airs the first Monday of each month at 6 p.m. on WMMT. Each episode is also archived online at WMMT’s website at www.wmmt.org. More information on the series be found at the Mountain Survivors Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mountainsurvivors.