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Nursing student/ filmmaker explores caregivers' feelings via digital stories

A vote for Mike Lang’s episode by May 19 could help him produce web series
May 18, 2017
Nursing doctoral student Mike Lang listens as caregiver Sue tells her digital story. Photo by Phil Harrison

Nursing doctoral student Mike Lang listens as caregiver Sue tells her digital story. Photo by Phil Harrison

When we think about caregivers, what may come first to mind is the person who looks after your child while you are at work or someone who cares for your cognitively impaired grandparent. But doctoral student and filmmaker Mike Lang, a University of Calgary Eyes High scholar, believes we are all caregivers and is highlighting this by helping family caregivers create digital stories about their experiences. The end result? A web series that normalizes the feelings and challenges of family caregivers and generates greater understanding of this important role.

“The plan is to share this web series with as many health-care providers as possible around the province to help enhance our understanding of the caregiving experience,” says Lang, a “health narrative specialist” who helps patients and their families translate their experiences into short three- to four-minute digital stories. “Family caregiver stories are not often heard, but they must be understood as they are key players in the optimal functioning of our health-care system.”

First in series emphasizes integral role of all family members

The first in the series, Sue’s Story, follows the journey of the grandmother of a child with cerebral palsy. Sue’s story reaffirms the truth of the phrase "it takes a village" and emphasizes the integral role of all family members in caring for someone with disabilities.

“Mike opened my eyes to (my caregiving role),” says Sue in the film, created by RoadWest Pictures, that captures the process of her digital story.

“Sue’s story exemplifies how a grandparent suffers for both their child and their grandchild when that grandchild is not well,” says nursing professor Nancy Moules, who has completed a study on how grandparents' sadness in these instances can be both silenced and doubled.  “Mike’s work in the field of digital storytelling has the power to address and even mitigate suffering.”

Lang’s PhD supervisor, assistant professor Catherine Laing, who researches the value of digital storytelling, agrees. “Digital stories can be powerful, often transformative, and fundamentally helpful in terms of understanding experiences, both for those who make and view them.”

Website visitors can vote for their favourite web episode, including Lang's, until May 19

Lang’s film about Sue’s journey is one of 10 pilot episodes for the TELUS Fund’s first-ever call for a web series aimed at positively impacting families and friends who are caregivers. Visitors to the Caregiver Stories website can vote on their favourite (Lang’s episode is called Who Cares? Helping caregivers find their place in the story) with three winners receiving a share of $500,000 to develop their series.

Lang says there has been almost 21,000 views of Sue’s Story on Facebook, and hundreds of comments. “Of course, we would like to receive production funding for our series,” he says. “But our ultimate goal is really to validate the feelings and experiences of caregivers and help them make sense of their role in the illness experience.”