By Tonya Oaks Smith
Dr. Avinash Thombre began his global research on transformational experiences while he was completing a doctoral degree in speech communication at the University of New Mexico.
The native of Pune, India, worked initially in New Mexico with HIV and AIDS patients, later including cancer patients in his study to examine the unique coping strategies used by individuals when they have been diagnosed with a chronic disease. Thombre noticed a series of stages that patients go through, but he noticed one in particular that not many individuals were able to progress through.
“We observed that some patients used unique strategies and underwent what is called transformative experiences,” Thombre said. “These survivors indulged in significant amounts of self-reflection and self-communication, which leads to taking an active role in their diagnosis and fighting the disease. We also saw a remarkable ability in these survivors to use various narrative communicative strategies to share their stories with others.
“What is even more interesting is that the patient’s native culture plays an important role in how they make sense of what’s going on in their bodies, and their cultural notions become significant in impacting health outcomes. These cultural strategies need in-depth examination as they can make a difference between survivorship and failure to cope with cancer.”
Thombre expanded this line of his research and collected data at the Ruby Hall Clinic’s Tehmi Grant Memorial Cancer Institure in Pune, India this summer. A partnership with this cancer clinic allows him to pilot an extensive questionnaire with stage 1 and stage 2 Indian cancer patients asking about their unique cultural acceptance and progression in dealing with their cancer diagnoses. In addition to surveying patients, Thombre talks to families and caregivers to find out their view of the transformation process.
The research, he added, could have greater applications than helping cancer victims accept their diagnoses. As the number of individuals diagnosed with chronic diseases increase, Thombre hopes his research will increase the survivorship rates and as the survivors live longer, this understanding will help improve their quality of life. Patients with chronic diseases like diabetes – or those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders – could learn how to become “survivors” as well.