Like cancer patients and survivors, we caregivers need resources that provide us with educational, practical and emotional support so we can deliver the kind of care our loved ones deserve. As technology is changing, so is our access to information. From the privacy of our own homes we can observe or join virtual support groups, order or download books, read personal blogs by other caregivers, or browse online hubs like CKN that address our need for caregiver-specific information. However, the prospect of “surfing” through all the content out there can be overwhelming. So, during my tenure as Caregiver Section Editor here at CKN, one of my goals is to share with you some of the resources that have been helpful to me and to other caregivers that I have met and worked with since my daughter Sara was first diagnosed in 1997.
Film has been a passion of mine for many years (since long before I became a caregiver!), so I’m going to start off by focusing on resources that are available in that medium, including feature films, short films, videos and web series.
Stories connect us. Shared stories can change lives. Film is a powerful storytelling medium, and can be used as a vehicle for spreading knowledge and raising awareness about the experience of the cancer patient. By doing so, it can provide much-needed support and education not only for the patient/survivor but for the friends, family and medical professionals who care for them.
Of course, there aren’t many mainstream feature film producers out there who are willing to take the risk of selling a cancer story to the paying public. But a few have, over the years, with such memorable, tear-jerking films as Love Story, Terms of Endearment, My Sister’s Keeper and last year’s award-winning 50/50.
On television, stories of cancer patients and their caregivers are being told on HBO in a new film starring Cate Blanchett called Cancer Vixen, inspired by young adult survivor Marisa Acocella Marchetto, and on MTV’s “World Of Jenks”, where host Andrew Jenks features a fashion designer’s struggles and joys as a young adult living with cancer. Most recently, TV celebrity Valerie Harper (best known for her roles on Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show) has “gone public” with her cancer story, and wisely, her show’s producers are seeing the value of including Valerie’s caregivers in the pieces.
In the documentary category, thanks to the strength and commitment of many independent filmmakers, we have a range of films that offer great insight and tell diverse cancer stories with great heart. Some examples: Crazy Sexy Cancer, I Don’t Have Time For This, About Her, Sara’s Story, Chasing Rainbows: Young Adults Living With Cancer and Wrong Way To Hope. These documentaries do not focus on the caregiver per se, but watching them can help you reach a new understanding of what your loved one may be experiencing on his or her cancer journey.
We still need more film resources that tell the story from the caregiver’s perspective. Fortunately, documentary filmmaker Mike Lang, an adventure guide for Survive and Thrive and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, is doing just that with a new webseries called Valleys (Hands on Films/Survive and Thrive). Its eight episodes, filmed on the spectacular Colorado River, follow Amy and her close friend and caregiver Annie, as they join forces to survive not only the challenges of the river, but the demands of their ever-changing relationship since Amy’s cancer diagnosis. To tell you more about this exciting project, I’ll let Mike Lang himself take over:
Mike Lang weighs in:
Stories = Wisdom
It has been four years this month since I finished treatments.
For a while right after finishing I figured I was an expert and knew how to handle this cancer thing; I figured I could be a great mentor to current young adult cancer patients and provide all the answers that they needed.
After four years and meeting hundreds of other young adult survivors, I now know that I don’t really have as much to offer people as I first imagined. Really, the only thing that I can do is tell them my story and encourage them to tell me theirs… and then really listen and care about what they say.
I have heard lots of cancer stories and the most incredible thing is that I seem to learn something important from all of them. If there could ever be a silver lining to my cancer experience, it would be all the wonderful people I’ve been able to meet and all the deeply meaningful stories I’ve been able to hear.
One thing that I have learned through listening to all these stories is that cancer has a profound effect on everyone: friends, family, spouses, colleagues…not just the person who is diagnosed.
Starting in April on the Generation Why blog, we will be sharing the story of Amy, a cancer survivor, as she and her friends and family each struggle with the unique challenges that cancer has brought into their lives. The hope is that we will be able to see cancer from many different perspectives, leading to open, honest communication with the people we love.
The webseries is called Valleys, and you can watch the trailer here. I hope that you will continue to check back each Wednesday, starting April 3rd, to follow along with an eye-opening and powerful journey as Amy and her best friend Annie raft the Grand Canyon together and discover important truths about living with cancer.
Survivor stories have incredible wisdom in them, wisdom that will help all of us deal with the impact of cancer in our lives, and we feel honored to be able to share Amy’s story with all of you.
Mike, Amy and the Valleys Team
Pat here, again. I think Mike’s message about stories is a powerful one. Stories = Wisdom. We tell stories – to ourselves, to each other – in many different ways and for many different reasons, but in the end it’s all about trying to make sense of the world and our own lives, and figuring out how to face the challenges that we encounter every day. I encourage you to seek out the stories of other caregivers, and to share your own story if you feel the urge!