News / Calgary

Calgary cancer research shows value of digital storytelling

Cancer patients said they now have a better understanding of their condition

Anika Haroon (left) and Catherine Laing said that they hope the research will call for a stronger focus on mental health.

Josie Lukey / For Metro

Anika Haroon (left) and Catherine Laing said that they hope the research will call for a stronger focus on mental health.

For 10 years, it felt like Anika Haroon was stuck in limbo.

As a two-time osteosarcoma cancer survivor, Haroon felt no motivation to pursue her future goals, until she collaborated with the University of Calgary to create a digitized story that looked back on her life.

“Ever since I did the story, my life has changed dramatically. It has definitely healed in many ways, understanding my own pain and moving forward in life. Rather than seeing it as a painful experience, seeing it as a powerful experience,” said Haroon.

The study, which included 16 participants, focused on children and young adults who created short, first-person video narratives that combined the person’s voice with images and little video clips overlaid with music that tell the story of their condition. Participants also worked together with a digital storytelling facilitator, who helped them develop their stories.

According to Catherine Laing, nursing researcher at U of C, the digitized stories helped patients develop a new understanding of their condition.

“The most unexpected thing about (digital storytelling) was the therapeutic value that participants incurred. One of our participants described her experience of making a digital story a sneaky therapy,” said Laing.

Laing’s research also revealed that cancer wasn’t the only thing patients were struggling with, it was the damaged relationships, shattered body images and impaired physical or cognitive functions that come with the disease. Through producing the digital stories, patients were able to better understand their condition - helping them move forward.

For Haroon, who said she once struggled to get out of bed in the morning, finding the motivation to take classes in anthropology and art at U of C, work two jobs and volunteer all while still completing rehab - is all thanks to the digital story.

“I found inspiration for myself from my own story,” said Haroon. “I am my own role model.”