Almost every person has been affected by cancer in some way

Herb Reinhard tapes a player, photo by Ford Werness

Ford Werness
Oxford Stories

Oxford resident Helen Hill has battled breast, uterine and colon cancer. Now in her 70s, she believes she is in the clear.

“I didn’t think of it back then, because well nobody did,” she said, “but now I realize how much I was around smoke as a child. My mother smoked a pack of cigarettes a day while at home, so I was constantly breathing in secondhand smoke. She didn’t know the toll it would eventually take on me, but it was quite a lot.”

Just behind heart disease, cancer accounts for nearly 25 percent of deaths in both Mississippi and the U.S. Nearly one in every four people die from cancer each year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

(Helen Hill, survivor of 3 different kinds of cancer, photo by Ford Werness)

Although nobody ever wants to talk about it, cancer is something nearly every person deals with at some point. If they don’t experience it personally, they have a family member, friend or coworker who has battled a form of the disease.

Hill spent countless years in doctors’ offices discussing treatment and how to fight three forms of cancer.

“Anyone who’s had cancer becomes quite familiar with the knowledge of it,” said Hill, who lives a comfortable and healthy life today and has made a promise to herself. “I refuse to ever pick up a cigarette. I never have, and I never will. I’ve seen firsthand how negatively it can affect a person.”

Oxford resident Herb Reinhard, an Ole Miss Football Team trainer, has also had family experiences with cancer. Reinhard has been blessed to live a cancer-free life, though both of his grandparents battled lung cancer and leukemia.

“Watching my grandpa go through treatment was tough on my whole family,” he said, “and if I had to guess, I’d say that lung cancer would be the most common type in Mississippi.”

He’s right. Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Mississippi and the U.S. There were an estimated 142,670 deaths from lung cancer in the U.S. in 2019, more than three times the death estimate for breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Though breast cancer is the most common cancer in America, its survival rate is 84 percent, much higher than the survival rate of lung cancer – 47 percent. Lung cancer accounts for 37 percent of all cancer deaths annually in America.

Hannah Merrifield starts the STEM unit. Photo by Ford Werness.

The family of Ole Miss trainer Hannah Merrifield has also faced lung cancer. “Both of my grandmas had cancer,” she said, “one with lung cancer and the other with ovarian.

Merrifield, 24, was raised in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and attended Gannon University in her home state. Within a year of graduating college, she also met a co-worker with a family history of lung cancer.

(John Michel treats a player, photo by Ford Werness)

According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, more than 20 percent of the state’s residents die each year from cancer. Cigarette smoking is linked to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.

Mississippi ranks 24th on the list for cancer deaths in America per year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

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