Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Aftershock: The lived experience of chemotherapy, induced menopause for breast cancer survivors and its impact on their sexuality
by Norris-Walczak, Elizabeth, Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2011, 220; 3486445
Abstract (Summary)

Being diagnosed with breast cancer in the prime of one's life is a life-altering experience for a woman. Treatment protocols, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, are grueling and may affect many aspects of a woman's life, including her self-image, her sense of femininity, her relationship, and her sexuality. This dissertation explored what it was like for women who were premenopausal at the time they began treatment to go through chemotherapy-induced menopause, particularly with regard to its impact on their sexuality. Interviews were conducted with 8 women between the ages of 38 and 48 years of age who had undergone chemotherapy-induced menopause following breast cancer treatment. A descriptive phenomenological method was used to analyze the interviews and discern themes that arose from each of them, as well as aggregate themes that occurred across interviews. The main aggregate themes from the interviews included vulnerability, changing identity, and adapting to new sense of self.

Women's experiences were examined using a depth psychological framework that characterized the experience of going through chemotherapy-induced menopause as a result of breast cancer treatment as a death-rebirth experience. When a woman is first diagnosed with breast cancer, she comes face to face with mortality. This brush with mortality (The Death) makes women feel vulnerable, and at this stage, chemotherapy-induced menopause may seem inconsequential by comparison. While going through treatment, a woman realizes she is not the same person she was before her diagnosis either physically or psychologically. In this phase (The Descent), she experiences a changing identity. Finally, becoming a cancer "survivor" entails adapting to a new sense of self, sometimes including changes in her sexuality. During this phase (The Rebirth), she may feel isolated, unable to find anyone to talk to about her experiences. Learning to adapt to this changing sense of identify may be transformative ultimately, if she is able to process her experiences and individuate. Therapy may play an important role in this process, encouraging women to share and process their experiences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kipnis, Aaron
School: Pacifica Graduate Institute
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 73/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Counseling Psychology, Clinical psychology
Keywords: Breast cancer, Cancer survivors, Chemotherapy, Menopause
Publication Number: 3486445
ISBN: 9781267044396
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