Beyond dichotomies of health and illness: life after breast cancer


Correspondence: Roanne Thomas-MacLean, Dalhousie university of Family Medicine, Dr Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, PO Box 9000, Preiestman Street, Fredericton, NB, Canada, E3B 5N5.
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While there has been a vast amount of research on breast cancer in recent years, areas within this domain remain unexplored. For instance, there have been few attempts to marry an understanding of the social context in which breast cancer occurs with an understanding of subjective experiences of this condition. The purpose of this study was to explore women's experiences of embodiment after breast cancer, utilizing a phenomenological approach rooted in a feminist perspective. The focus of this article is upon the changes to embodiment that are long-term. Twelve women were interviewed on two occasions each and were asked to talk about changes to their bodies that occurred as a result of breast cancer. Three key themes were identified: (1) how it feels (e.g. sensation and breast loss); (2) managing appearances (e.g. wearing prostheses); and (3) treatments without end (e.g. menopause). The findings of this study show that women with breast cancer are a diverse group and that survivorship is a dynamic, life-long process, which suggests that health professionals can play an important role in establishing interdisciplinary approaches to caring, beyond the conclusion of acute treatment.