The development of resilience : reported by survivors of breast cancer

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Boer, Patricia Mulcahy
McElhinney, James H.
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Thesis (D. Ed.)
Department of Educational Leadership
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This study offers a brief review of the literature on resilience. The review served as a basis for designing a qualitative study to observe how resilience develops in survivors of breast cancer. Survivors are those who lead productive, satisfying and/or inspirational lives, after their treatment has ended. By using qualitative data collection methods and post hoc data analysis, a purposive sampling of 11 women, in the Midwest, resilient survivors of breast cancer were studied. These women were asked to write brief autobiographies, detailing the important factors and contexts that were evidence of the development of resilience in themselves. Tape recorded interviews allowed participants to add to or delete from their autobiographies.The findings showed the eleven participants shared six common characteristics: (1) making a spiritual connection; (2) having meaningful work; (3) engaging in social activism; (4) being a self-directed learner; (5) living a healthy lifestyle; and (6) expressing a wide range of feelings. In addition, the taped interviews revealed the importance of creativity and authentic relationships. A resilience wheel illustrates the definition of resilience, i.e., as a positive attitude about one's body, mind, spirit and emotions, manifested by living a healthy lifestyle; engaging in meaningful work; forming and maintaining authentic relationships; and-expressing a wide range of feelings appropriately. The study demonstrated resilience is more than effective coping. It is observed and characterized by others as a zest for life.Among these participants, resilience/zest for life was found to have developed in their youth, when they identified with a positive role model/s, who modeled resilient attitudes/values. As children they internalized these values, acting on them in small ways, until adulthood when a life event triggered a shift. As adults they, then, claimed these internalized values as "my own philosophy."Although there was not sufficient evidence to discuss resilience as a developmental process in adulthood, the ages of the participants (40-77) imply the process of learning and growing continues throughout the life span.Suggestions for teaching resilience are offered along with recommendations for future research.