When cancer disappears, emotional scars often remain. Taking the form of damaged relationships, body image issues, or impaired physical and cognitive functioning, such fallout can often be more difficult to overcome than the initial illness itself. So, to help young cancer survivors heal their psychic wounds, the University of Calgary’s faculty of nursing recently conducted a study to see how digital storytelling could enhance young cancer patients’ mental wellbeing.

“This research shows that we need to find creative ways to address mental health with this population because, while most of them spoke of mental health issues -- fear, depression, anxiety, learning difficulties -- they all indicated that they were keeping it to themselves and that most would never see a therapist,” Catherine Laing, an associate professor at the university’s faculty of nursing and the study’s lead researcher, said in a written statement.

“Right now, our focus is primarily on the physical issues related to pediatric cancer treatments with much less attention given to mental and emotional health.”

In Laing’s study, which was funded by the Kids Cancer Care Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research Fund, 16 cancer patients and survivors ranging in age from 5 to 32 documented their experiences using materials like voice recordings, photography, video, music and poetry. The resulting first-person mini-documentaries were deeply personal, and -- according to the study -- incredibly therapeutic.

“It allows people to take a step back from where they are in their life and work through something that they had perhaps buried or kind of thought they were okay with but weren’t,” Laing added in an interview with CTV News.

Anika Haroon, 26, agrees. By making a video detailing her harrowing experiences, the two-time cancer survivor says she was able to finally confront some of the darkest days of her life.

“I found inspiration for myself from my own story and that was very powerful,” the university student told CTV News.

You can read more about the study on the University of Calgary’s website.

With files from CTV’s Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks