University of Calgary

After fighting cancer, master’s student focuses his thesis on it

UToday HomeApril 10, 2013

By Kathryn Sloniowski

Michael Lang (back row, left) films an episode of Valleys, along with other young adult cancer survivors and their supporters.Michael Lang (back row, left) films an episode of Valleys, along with other young adult cancer survivors and their supporters. Photos courtesy Michael LangFour years ago, Michael Lang worked as a ski patroller, adventure guide, and was self-proclaimed as being fit and eating healthy (most of the time). Today, the University of Calgary Master of Science student has taken his life in a different direction, shifting his focus to young adults affected by cancer.

Lang was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 25 years old after experiencing persistent breathing problems. What he first suspected was asthma turned out to be a grapefruit-sized tumour in his chest.

The seven-and-a-half month treatment regime not only forced him to give up his active lifestyle, but left him and his wife of five months no choice but to move into his parents’ basement.

“During treatment I got very angry and depressed,” he says. “I couldn’t understand how something like that could happen to me.”

The experience — which Lang equates to having a mid-life crisis — gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life, on what he felt was important, and on what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind.

“I decided I wanted to make the lives of young adults with cancer like me, better,” he says.

Lang, who is currently in remission, started running adventure trips and retreats for young adults affected by cancer. He also works at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, creates films documenting the cancer journey of young adults, and is working on his master’s thesis through the Faculty of Medicine, looking at ways film can enhance the online support group experience for young adults with cancer.

Michael Lang films a scene for Valleys.Michael Lang films a scene for Valleys.Lang’s latest project is a new web series he produced called Valleys. Available exclusively on the Huffington Post, Valleys follows the story of Amy, a young adult with stage 4 ovarian and cervical cancer, along with her family and best friend Annie, as they deal with their own unique challenges of the diagnoses. Launched on April 3, a new webisode of Valleys will be available on the Huffington Post every Wednesday for seven weeks, accompanied by introductory blogs written by various cancer experts.

“The web series is really for anyone who has been touched by cancer, either as a supporter of a friend or family member with cancer, or as a cancer survivor themselves,” says Lang. “I hope that by sharing the perspective of both cancer survivor and supporter, that it opens lines of communication and encourages honest discussions between them.”


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