Women’s experiences of ‘being diagnosed’ with a long-term illness
Aims. In this paper we share women’s storied accounts of ‘being diagnosed’ with a long-term illness. The purpose of the paper is to raise awareness of health professionals that receiving a medical diagnosis is a potentially calamitous event, challenging self-identity.
Background. The three authors were involved in three separate inquiries which explored women’s experiences of living with illness. The authors realized that ‘being diagnosed’ was a common memorable event for the women across the inquiries. The literature around receiving a diagnosis was scarce.
Design. This paper is the result of secondary analysis of data from three different projects where we researched women living with long-term illness. In this paper, we focus on the experience of ‘being diagnosed’ as we share and show women’s perceptions of receiving a medical diagnosis.
Findings. Receiving a medical diagnosis of a long-term illness was a memorable event in the women’s lives. Many women felt alone with their illness, often without adequate information to find meaning in the relationship between their familiar self and their new identity as a woman living with illness. They felt vulnerable and lost as they tried to understand the meanings and consequences that the diagnosis held for their present and their future. Informational needs may be specific and individual. For many, receipt of a diagnostic label was momentous and should not be underestimated, despite the initial feeling of chaos, many women felt validated.
Conclusion. Receiving a medical diagnosis is one event where health care professionals could be on standby. It is important to take the woman’s articulation of the event seriously. Open, genuine communication, with willingness on behalf of the health professional to listen would be affirming for women who are coming to terms with the diagnosis of a chronic illness.