Aims and objectives. To explore the experiences of 12 women with breast cancer, involved in a large longitudinal qualitative study designed to explore the experiences of people with cancer within the first year following diagnosis.
Background. To understand experiences of breast cancer further as a chronic illness, this study draws on biographically informed and embodied perspectives of chronic illness.
Design. Qualitative, longitudinal study.
Method. Interviews were conducted at three time-points within the first year following diagnosis with 12 women with breast cancer. Drawing on the constant comparative method, a descriptive and thematic approach to data analysis was adopted. To move beyond the descriptive level, we drew on the concepts of biographical disruption and embodiment to further explore and explain the disruption that was evident in these women’s lives as a result of their diagnosis.
Results. Two key concepts emerged from the data: ‘Identity Transition: moving between health and illness’ and ‘Making the Transition to the Future? Living with breast cancer and moving on’. Identity transition emerged as a result of the changes and adaptations participants were required to make as a result of their diagnosis. Making the transition to the future emerged as a result of the challenges these women faced living with cancer.
Conclusions. This study showed that the longitudinal exploration of the experiences of cancer within the first year following diagnosis provides a vital understanding of the impact cancer can have on one’s identity from the moment of diagnosis onwards.
Relevance to clinical practice. This study has implications for cancer services because it highlights the need for interventions that support people to both successfully manage the experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment and equip themselves with the necessary techniques to negotiate transitions towards the future and living with cancer.