Healing Appalachia: Tales of cancer survival through movement

Healing Appalachia began as a focus-group discussion with survivors of various types of cancers. In the two focus group discussions, 13 survivors shared their stories of hope and horror, discussing diagnosis through survival. A few extra participants reached out to me personally to meet individually because they wanted to be involved anonymously. The 16 total participants ranged in age from 52-89. All participants were from Elizabethton, Johnson City, Bristol, TN, Bristol, VA, and Emory, VA. We discussed regional and Appalachian life factors that contributed to these experiences, such as difficult access to health care and working conditions contributing to the diagnosis. The men and women started discussing their individual story and found common themes with each other. The themes were coded, and the participants were asked to include one word that encompassed their experience for them. Some examples were words like burning, repellent, inconceivable, and kaleidoscopic. These words and themes were then transformed into movement, using thoughts on symbolic interactionism and semiotics. As choreography began to set in, the dancers worked to embody these experiences, words, and themes through their performance so that audiences could understand nonverbally the trauma and hope involved in these stories. The performance was filmed as well as performed at regional Relay for Life events, in hopes of encouraging others battling cancer to see the hope in the overcoming of the disease. In this experiential presentation, I will discuss the creation of the project and performance. I will share some stories that were shared in the focus groups and then open the floor to others who would like to try and embody these words and themes nonverbally. This project was IRB certified.