Being in suspense: women’s experiences awaiting breast cancer surgery


S. Drageset: e-mail:


drageset s., lindstrøm t.c., giske t. & underlid k. (2011) Being in suspense: women’s experiences awaiting breast cancer surgery. Journal of Advanced Nursing 67(9), 1941–1951.


Aim.  This article is a report of a qualitative study of women’s experiences after having received a breast cancer diagnosis and awaiting primary surgery.

Background.  Breast cancer is experienced as an important stressor and a major challenge. How women appraise the diagnosis affects their postsurgery adaptation. Although studies have documented the presurgery period as stressful, in-depth understanding of women’s experiences while awaiting surgery studied during this stressful period is still needed.

Method.  Twenty-one women with newly diagnosed breast cancer were interviewed individually the day before surgery at a Norwegian university hospital, between February 2006 and February 2007. Interviews were analysed using the qualitative meaning condensation method.

Findings.  Feeling healthy, but having to adapt to disease, waiting, uncertainty, having to tell and existential awareness were themes identified. Having to wait was experienced as frightening, painful, long and difficult – but also necessary. Some expressed apprehension because they could not do anything about their situation. Others emphasized that it was good to have some time between diagnosis and surgery to become personally prepared and spend time with loved ones. Informing others about the diagnosis was a great burden for most of them. Social networks could both give and crave support.

Conclusion.  Healthcare professionals need to be sensitive to the individual experiences of women awaiting breast cancer surgery to give support to ease their situation. Setting the date for surgery will alleviate anxiety. Follow-up studies about the potential impact of presurgery experiences on later experiences of living with breast cancer and intervention studies are needed.