Being within or being between? The cultural context of Arab women's experience of coping with breast cancer in Israel


Correspondence to: Department of Nursing, University of Haifa, Haifa, 31905, Israel. E-mail:



Coping with cancer is affected by cultural norms, beliefs, and perceptions. To date, only a few studies have examined how Arab women cope with breast cancer and how the illness affects their lives. We aimed to study how Arab women perceive and ascribe meaning to their illness and its personal, familial, and social implications and to examine their coping strategies within the religious and traditional cultural context.


The study was qualitative. Participants were 20 Muslim and Christian Arab women with breast cancer (stages I–III) from northern Israel, aged 20–50 years. Participants were between 1 and 5 years after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted and later transcribed.


Four main themes emerged: (i) “Family Comes First”: The Woman and Her Family; (ii) To Expose or not to Expose? That's the Dilemma; (iii) Faith in God as a Source of Coping; and (iv) Constructing New Meanings Following Recovery from Cancer. Findings stressed a duality in participants' cancer coping experience according to the traditional cultural norms of concealment, while simultaneously encountering more open Western attitudes through interactions with healthcare providers and Jewish women receiving treatment alongside them.


Healthcare professionals should be aware of the unique implications of cancer in the context of the traditional Arab culture intertwined with modernization processes. This context calls for interventions that consider the understandings depicted in the present study. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.