Gateway Gazette

Study Explores Power of Digital Storytelling on Childhood Cancer Patients

Faculty of Nursing researcher launches study with Kids Cancer Care

Catherine Laing, right, and research assistant Mike Lang guide Laura Cuthbertson, a 27-year-old childhood cancer survivor, through her first digital storytelling session. Photo by Unique Perspectives Photography
Catherine Laing, right, and research assistant Mike Lang guide Laura Cuthbertson, a 27-year-old childhood cancer survivor, through her first digital storytelling session. Photo by Unique Perspectives Photography

It is an ancient art that, in this digital age of computers, cameras and cellphones, takes on an entirely new and compelling form — the art of telling stories. And while a component of weaving a tale has often included some element of learning, a new study conducted by Catherine Laing, assistant nursing professor, will hopefully take it a bit further. Laing will look at the therapeutic value of digital storytelling on young people affected by cancer and on the health-care professionals who care for them.

“Although there is widespread anecdotal evidence about the benefits of digital storytelling, to the best of my knowledge, there is no research about its efficacy or therapeutic value — especially in childhood cancer patients and survivors,” Laing says. “This study will answer that.”

Movies that move

Digital stories are mini movies — short, first-person video-narratives created with a combination of recorded voice, photography, video, music and poetry. With a trained digital storytelling facilitator, study participants will use some or all of these methods to explain what it is, or was like to have cancer. Their voice will narrate the story while the video plays. Laing will interview them to learn about their experiences in producing their story and then present the digital stories to health-care providers, who will be interviewed about their experiences as viewers.

Long-term plans for the project include creating a website for pediatric oncology professionals, showcasing the digital stories, to help inform their clinical practice. Study findings will also be used to develop future programs and services for this population.

Funded by the Kids Cancer Care Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research Fund, an endowed fund at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, the study is recruiting a minimum of 15 Albertans ages eight to 30, who have or have had childhood cancer. Learn more about the study.

Laing also an award winner

Laing’s doctoral dissertation, “It’s not just camp: Understanding the meaning of children’s cancer camps for children and families,” has won a 2014 Canadian Camp Research Award of Excellence from the Canadian Camping Association (CCA). The thesis recounts day-to-day realities for families living under the spectre of cancer and attests to the therapeutic power of camp.  In this qualitative study, Laing uses philosophical hermeneutics to explore what others within the field of oncology have often only expressed through objective quantitative approaches.

The CCA was founded in 1936 and is a non-profit, national federation of nine provincial camping associations and represents over 800 camps across Canada.

The site calls Laing’s work “an important and courageous addition for medical journals and camp research” and states: “This work challenges the hard science of medical economics. Particularly intriguing are her future plans to explore the concept of social return on investment (SROI) which assigns a monetary value to items traditionally non-valued, overlooked, or misunderstood such as quality of life and self-confidence. Dr. Laing presents herself as a true advocate for social medicine who hopes to expand the perspective of oncologists towards viewing cancer camp as a therapeutic imperative.”

Source University of Calgary

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