Appalachian Cancer Survivor Project heals through art

The Appalachian Cancer Survivor Project is an Athens-based group for cancer survivors, caregivers and more.
Colorful origami flowers surround a card with information on the Appalachian Cancer Survivor Project's virtual art nights.
Provided by Allison Epperson.

ATHENS, Ohio — An Athens resident and cancer survivor has created a support group for people with the disease to cope and create.

The Appalachian Cancer Survivor Project is an Athens-based group for cancer survivors, caregivers and more. It has been hosting weekly virtual art nights for the past few months.

Allison Epperson, an Athens resident and breast cancer survivor, spearheads the project. It was born out of the suggestion from her boss at the Ohio University Game Research and Immersive Design Lab that she do a “creative project.” 


“I thought about it for a while, and I said, ‘I’ve had cancer on the brain for quite some time,’” she said. “And there’s all of these programs that exist to create community in Columbus, but for a person who lives in Athens or Nelsonville or Guysville, that’s not a sustainable option. So I thought, ‘I want to change that.’”

Epperson got in touch with Patty Mitchell of Passion Works Studio, who suggested doing some type of virtual art nights, as those are more accommodating for people who are immunocompromised. 

“I wanted to create an event, a room for people who are immunocompromised, where they don’t have to buy a whole lot of supplies … and create a safe space for them to indulge their creative spirit” Epperson said. “I think having a creative outlet helps me heal. If it helps me heal, chances are it helps others heal.”

Epperson set out to create activities for people impacted by cancer, “rather than create another support group.” The group is not limited to people with cancer; it is for survivors, providers, caregivers and people who have a family history of cancer. Group event activities vary from collaging to creative writing, origami and paper beading. 

It is powerful to bring people with similar experiences together, Epperson said.

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“Once you meet a person [who] has a trauma that’s similar to yours, you have a shorthand automatically; you don’t have to explain certain things,” Epperson said. “They get the frustration, … they get the aggravation, they get the joy. They get all of those things.”

Epperson advised that within the group’s title, “know the word survivor is doing a lot of extra lifting.”

Like survivor, “caregiver” has many meanings, too — from a husband to a friend or neighbor. 

“Caregiver doesn’t have to mean ‘I live with that person, and I take care of them every single day,” Epperson said. “That’s one type of caregiver. But it’s also if you, as a friend, have given them a ride, if you’ve cooked them a meal, if you talk with them on the phone and listen to them. That’s giving care.”

Epperson emphasized that cancer varies person to person; it knows no age. Some people may not be debilitated by their treatments, while others may suffer greatly. Even Epperson’s experience with her cancer differed from her mom’s.

Epperson advised people who want to support loved ones who have cancer to “offer specific things.”

“The phrase ‘If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know’ puts the burden on the cancer patient to come up with an idea,” Epperson said. “You don’t have to be like, ‘I want to purchase your groceries for the rest of the time.’ It’s ‘Do you want to get a coffee? Do you want to go for a walk?’ It can be something free and simple, like that.”

Another common misconception with cancer is that the experience with the disease ends when treatment ends. That’s not the case, Epperson said. What lies ahead is “a road of healing,” of “big questions” and “big feelings.”

Initially, Epperson was living in Atlanta, Georgia, but received a job offer at Ohio University the week before she got her cancer diagnosis in 2021. Her move marked her return to Athens after grad school at OU. 

One day she discovered a lump in her breast. As her mother is a breast cancer survivor, she saw a doctor quickly. The doctor immediately sent Epperson for a mammogram and an ultrasound.

“[She said] ‘We are not going to fool around,’” Epperson said. “She was also a breast cancer survivor … [it] was wonderful to have a physician to advocate on my behalf. But all at the same time, a bit frightening — like, why are they doing that? And I’m grateful to her for doing that.”

The surgeon Epperson sees in Athens is also a cancer survivor, she said. 

When she moved, Epperson started the whole treatment process in Athens with a new set of doctors. She described herself as generally healthy — only occasionally needing to visit the doctor for minor ailments.

“It was the most chaotic move I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said. Luckily, “I had lots of people helping me out, giving me support.” 

Epperson went through most of her treatment in 2021 and 2022. “I went through surgery, I had a mastectomy. Then I had chemotherapy, and I had radiation.” Her last chemo treatment was in October 2022.

“Cancer is part of my life now,” Epperson said. “And I’ve exited the main highway, and I’m on a different road, and I’m looking at what is on that road, but there’s a car that’s still behind me that I’m aware of. And I’m trying to keep it in its rightful spot — not too close and not let it creep into my blind spot.”

Brittany Jarvis, administrative manager for OhioHealth Cancer Services Athens, said OhioHealth is excited to work alongside the Appalachian Cancer Survivor Project.

“Art can be used to express negative feelings or fears but also to share hopes and dreams,” Jarvis said. “You don’t need a special skill to participate in our program, just an open mind and a few common supplies.”

Thursday, June 29’s online workshop will focus on playwriting, from 7–8:30 p.m.

Additionally, ACSP will be co-hosting an open studio with Kate Fetterolf later this summer, where participants will be able to create whatever they wish — paintings, collages, drawings and more — using materials from Fetterolf’s studio. Space is limited. Interested parties may contact Epperson via email at

The Appalachian Cancer Survivor Project can be found on Facebook and Instagram

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