Women's experiences of breast cancer:
: a longitudinal perspective

  • Katherine Swainston

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Utilising a hermeneutic phenomenological approach twenty women’s experiences of breast cancer were explored through semi-structured interviews at three time points during their healthcare trajectory from recent diagnosis to early follow-up. Phenomenological analysis guided by van Manen’s (1990) principles revealed numerous multifaceted themes some of which were time limited while others spanned the data collection period. Use was made of an adapted life grid approach in order to enhance the implicit meanings to be elicited through interpretation of text. Central themes depicting the medicalisation of breast cancer, perceptions and management of the body and participants’ emotional journey were uncovered. Breast cancer was found to represent a biographical disruption that had a long-term impact on a woman’s body, self, identity and sense of embodiment. Changes to the body, due to breast cancer treatment, and an altered way of being in the world, elicited disruption to the body-self relationship, a separation that was reinforced by the healthcare system. Participants were found to adopt a variety of coping strategies to manage ongoing change and the stress elicited by experiencing breast cancer as a chronic illness. Avoidance, information management, conscious passivity in treatment decision-making and positive cognitive restructuring are examples of such mechanisms. However, women’s experiences of each theme identified and the emergence and maintenance of these themes varied according to women’s biography, diagnosis and prescribed treatment regime, cancer schema, and social support. Accordingly, models of care must address women’s individual experiences and recognise their changing needs throughout the year post diagnosis.
Date of Award15 Mar 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorAnna Van Wersch (Supervisor) & Carol Campbell (Supervisor)

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