Women's experience of living with cancer


  • Hazel Colyer MA BA(Hons) TDCR(T) HDCR(T) SRR

    1. Principal Lecturer, Interprofessional Health and Community Studies, Canterbury Christ Church College, North Holmes Road, Canterbury, Kent CTl 1QU, England
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This paper is drawn from a piece of empirical research which set out to give three women the opportunity to speak on their own behalf about how they experience having cancer in a sexual organ, using a feminist methodology to produce autobiographical stones The stories describe the process of diagnosis and treatment and also convey the catastrophic nature of a diagnosis of cancer, which leads to a painful, existential crisis and feelings of bewilderment, powerlessness and isolation The work was prompted by attendance at a workshop about cancer, body image and sexuality for sufferers and carers, which had indicated a depth of pain greater than is usually acknowledged This pain suggested a fundamental link between body image and the posited concept of woman image, the existence of a common identity through the category woman as it is traditionally structured in society This link is explored in relation to the evident changes in body image and the compromised sexualities of the women The disabling consequences of female sexual stereotyping are elaborated and discussed as synergistic with the more fundamental stigma shadow cast by the prospect of dying The paper discusses possible reasons for this in the context of a transformative rather than restorative model of living with cancer It suggests that being thrown into self-conscious living could be a source of energy for renegotiation for women especially The inadequacy of the medical model of disease is exposed and a more holistic approach is shown to be essential to address the needs of cancer patients, as is a critical appraisal and adjustment of existing social attitudes and relations