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Writing Reflections about a Cancer Journey

by Karen Y. Barnstable


Did you know that we have 50,000 to 70, 000 thoughts per day, and 35 to 48 thoughts per minute? Many of these thoughts are insignificant and fleeting, but many others are very significant and meaningful. They come from our values and beliefs, and form the core of who we are as a person. They guide our daily decisions. One of the best ways to recognize and capture the useful thoughts is to write them down. As soon as they are on paper, they are ‘trapped’ and can be edited and reframed. They can play a stronger role in helping us understand and make sense of our experiences in a positive way.

It is my hope that the four dimensions of reflective learning might inspire and guide you in reflecting and writing about your cancer journey. Perhaps it will assist you with the “why” questions and help you move forward. The ultimate goal of this reflection is that it will add to your body of knowledge about the experience and contribute to your understanding of yourself and the unique plan that exists for your life.


The Four Dimensions of Reflective Learning

I. Thinking Back

Returning to an experience and reflecting on the full impact of that experience after it has taken place may allow the learner to revisit the entire experience from a fresh and different perspective. Learners may uncover previous insights that had been realized but are now buried or simply forgotten.

Questions that may help uncover insights from the past are:

Ø What were your original thoughts at the start of your diagnosis?
Ø What were the factors that helped or hindered your ability to cope with the diagnosis?
Ø What specific skills/knowledge/attributes were necessary for helping you survive your treatments?


II. Thinking Inward
Introspective reflections also bring the learner closer to emotions. According to James Zull (2002), reflecting on a previous experience will be meaningless unless it engages our emotions.

Questions that may lead to an intrinsic connection are:

Ø What are your personal beliefs regarding this cancer experience?
Ø What were the highest and lowest emotional moments of your experience?
Ø What differences has the experience made in your intellectual, personal or emotional development?


III. Thinking Outward

Reflecting on the world around us requires an extended point of view. Identifying the attitudes and opinions of another person, such as an author, a coworker, or a person from another culture leads learners to further consideration of their own belief system. The value in these contrasts and comparisons of beliefs is that it causes the learner to either expand their personal point of view or perhaps becoming more affirmed in their reasons for believing the way they do.  Reflecting outwardly may lead to new ideas or theories that can help to explain or make sense of something.

Questions that allow learners to think in an extrinsic way:
Ø How are you looking at this cancer experience now? Can you identify a different point of view?
Ø How might a person from another culture or religion look at your experience?
Ø Have others with a similar experience to yours affected how you view your experience? If so, how?


IV. Thinking Forward
The value of reflective learning is that it allows learners to “reframe” their experience and use it to guide attitudes, perspectives and decisions more effectively in the future.

Questions that may help the learner to understand future life implications from an experience are:
Ø How significant are the outcomes of my experience to my future life?
Ø How has this experience shaped the plans, goals and dreams that I have for my future?
Ø How might what I have learned affect my ability to cope with challenges that I might face in my future?



Karen Y. Barnstable is an Educator that has had opportunity of teaching every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 12, College and University students. She has published two teaching guides and contributed to two books on innovations in education. During her studies for a Master’s in Education, Karen’s focus was on the adult learner and how learning can be deepened through reflection. She developed the four dimensions of reflection that has been published by the Ministry of Education and used by countless professors through access from her blog:

Karen is currently working as an Educational Leader for BC Cancer Agency with the provincial prevention team. She initiated and helped create the Hi5 living program that has grown far beyond her original vision. In her current role at the Centre for the Southern Interior, she coordinates the experiential learning projects of third year students from UBC Okanagan in Nursing, Education, Health Psychology and Media studies. She is also one of the Instructors for two certificate programs offered at Okanagan College.

Feedback on this document is welcome:




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One Response to Writing Reflections about a Cancer Journey

  1. Karen Barnstable says:

    Looking forward to all comments on the reflection guide.

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