"If the Dishes Don't Get Done Today, They'll Get Done Tomorrow": A Breast Cancer Experience as a Catalyst for Changes to Women's Leisure

Article excerpt

Introduction

Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer among women (Meyerowitz & Hart, 1995). Recent statistics show that in 2000, over 202,000 women in North America were diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 51,200 women died from the disease (Ferlay, Bray, Pisani, & Parkin, 2001). This report also estimated that more than 1.2 million women would be diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide in 2001. These statistics demonstrate first, that this disease is a serious health concern for many women and second, that there are many women in North America and around the world whose lives are shaped by a breast cancer experience.

Treatment can include various combinations of procedures--surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Each procedure has side effects that impact a woman's ability to function as she normally would (Love, 2000). In this regard, breast cancer is a disease that disrupts a woman's life and has the potential to effect many aspects of her everyday life including her physical abilities, her family, her career, her social world, and her leisure.

The most significant body of research on women and breast cancer has focused on the medical aspects of the illness--diagnosis, treatment, understanding causes, and prevention. The development of non-medical research has given consideration to the psychological and social ramifications of breast cancer. Such studies have devoted attention to understanding how family relationships and support systems influence adjustment to and recovery from breast cancer (e.g., Roberts, Cox, Shannon, & Wells, 1994), how family members and spouses are effected by a breast cancer experience (e.g., O'Mahoney & Carroll, 1997), and how body image and identity are effected by breast cancer surgery and treatment (e.g., Langellier & Sullivan, 1998). There have also been efforts to understand the effect of a breast cancer experience on other aspects of a woman's life. For example, the psychological effects of a breast cancer experience (e.g., Glanz & Lerman, 1992), changes in women's family and occupational roles during treatment (e.g., Bloom & Kessler, 1994), changes in levels of physical activity (e.g., Bloom et al., 1990) and changes within the lifestyle choices women make following diagnosis and treatment (e.g., Reardon & Aydin, 1993) have all been examined.

While some of the research on the social psychological outcomes of cancer experiences makes passing reference to changes that relate to leisure (Bloom et al., 1990; Mustian, Katula, & Gill, 2002; Zemore, Rinholm, Shepel, & Richards, 1990), these studies do not focus on or provide a clear understanding of the leisure experiences or choices of women living with breast cancer, and these women's perceptions of how the diagnoses and treatment has affected their leisure. The attention leisure does receive in such research relates mainly to social, psychological, and physical constraints that breast cancer patients and survivors experience following surgery or during treatment. The concentration is related to the effect on leisure activities while discussions about the effect on the attitude toward, experience of, or valuation of leisure are not included. This provides a very limited perspective on how a breast cancer experience could effect, influence, or interact with a woman's leisure. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to understand whether and in what ways a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment alters women's experience and choice of leisure activities post-treatment.

Literature Review

The leisure studies literature does not include much empirical research dealing specifically with cancer or the issues facing individuals with cancer or who have survived cancer. However, leisure researchers have investigated chronic illnesses and acquired disabilities as well as life events and transitions. These are related bodies of knowledge that contribute to an understanding of the possible inter-relationships between leisure and women's breast cancer experiences. …