Informal Transformative Learning from a Life-Threatening Illness

Informal Transformative Learning from a Life-Threatening Illness

Chad Hoggan (North Carolina State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8265-8.ch005
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This chapter explores how a life-threatening illness, specifically breast cancer, is an important site of informal learning. Research literature on the psychosocial transition of breast cancer, posttraumatic growth, and transformative learning theory are connected. Based on research, a model for informal transformative learning is presented. Broadly, this model has three elements: Crisis, Coping, and Engagement. The model addresses ways that a life-threatening illness can cause acute challenges, and that transformative learning occurs when a particular type of challenge is particularly problematic based on the person's habitual ways of thinking and being. The model positions this type of learning as an adaptive response to changes in a person's physical or social context changes, as well as when her positionality is altered within existing social contexts.
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The physical effects of breast cancer vary greatly. In addition to the obvious effects of a mastectomy or lumpectomy, long-term effects can also include menopause, infertility, menstrual changes, lymphedema, pain, sleep problems, weight gain, and various other physical problems that limit physical and recreational activities (Baucom, Porter, Kirby, Gremore, & Keefe, 2006). Additionally, many psychosocial effects arise, often causing the greatest anguish for those with breast cancer (Gonzalez &Lengacher, 2007). Common psychosocial issues that arise include psychological discomfort, changes in life patterns, fears and concerns related to breast cancer, existential crises, and social challenges (Colyer, 1996; Lydon, 2008; Meyerowitz, 1980). Please see the Key Terms section at the end of this chapter for a description of these challenges.

Clearly, breast cancer is a stressful experience with many potential negative psychosocial side effects. The psychosocial challenges described above for breast cancer patients, however, do not necessarily translate into long-term negative effects for survivors. Indeed, most survivors exhibit very healthy long-term psychosocial adjustments (Cordova, Cunningham, Carlson, & Andrykowski, 2001). Some survivors, however, traverse beyond a healthy adjustment. For these few, the negative effects during treatment trigger a period of deep personal questioning, which some have called an “existential crisis” (Krouse&Krouse, 1981), spiritual disequilibrium with severe psychosocial pain (Coward & Kahn, 2004), and a potential “psychosocial recovery” that can lead to positive outcomes (Cordova et al., 2001, p. 176). The next section explores the literature related to “posttraumatic growth,” a term used by many researchers to describe this phenomenon.

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