There isn’t a set-in-stone completion date for doctoral students because, as they often hear, life can get in the way.
Not only did life throw Sue Gallagher-Ross a curveball while she was pursuing a doctorate in counseling psychology, it also provided inspiration for her research.
Gallagher-Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and had to take a leave of absence from the Graduate School of Education while she underwent eight months of treatment. She returned in 2008, cancer-free and armed with a resolve to complete her dissertation on “Predictors of Post-Traumatic Growth in Breast Cancer Survivors.”
The dissertation was essentially Gallagher-Ross’ way to inform the field of the amazing growth she experienced as a result of her battle with cancer.
“Most people are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic growth has to do with the positive psychological change people can experience as a result of the struggle to find meaning in a crisis situation, such as being diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
“Our field really focuses on the negative outcomes of dealing with crises, and certainly post-traumatic growth doesn’t discount how distressing breast cancer or a natural disaster can be. I’m just saying that maybe that’s not the whole story.”
Gallagher-Ross found that post-traumatic growth can include enhanced personal relationships, greater spirituality and revised personal goals.
“It’s a revision of your life philosophy, how you view yourself and your relationships with others,” she said. “My own experience is that I feel that the world is less predictable now than I did before my diagnosis. However, I also feel more equipped to deal with anything that comes along—whether it’s expected or not. There’s a sense of gaining strength from being tested and having prevailed.”
Gallagher-Ross is searching for a counseling position at which she can practice independently yet be part of a group. She would like to work with children and adults, and hopes to assist those going through cancer treatments.
She said she chose Fordham because she was impressed with the research interests of the counseling psychology faculty.
“Counseling psychology is grounded in helping people improve their strengths, and that fits well with my personal philosophy,” she said.
Gallagher-Ross taught as an adjunct faculty member at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, N.Y. this past semester.
“I often say that no one accomplishes anything on his or her own,” she said. “Without the support of the faculty at Fordham and the support and patience of my husband, this wouldn’t have been possible. It was all part of the journey. I’m very grateful to have had the experiences I had—even the cancer.”