Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Ring of Silence: African American Women's Experiences Related to Their Breasts and Breast Cancer Screening

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Ring of Silence: African American Women's Experiences Related to Their Breasts and Breast Cancer Screening

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to explore women's memories and feelings concerning their breasts and breast cancer screening experiences in relation to their current breast cancer screening behaviors. Twelve African American women shared stories that were generated in written narratives and individual interviews. Two core themes emerged from the data analysis: silence and societal contradictions. On further review and interpretation of the core themes, one integrative theme became apparent: Ring of silence. Contradictory messages women receive from society, both voiced and unvoiced, can have a long-term effect on how some women perceive their bodies, and how they value early detection related to breast cancer screening. Key Words: Narratives, Breast Cancer Screening, and African American Women

Introduction

Western values and traditions have oppressed women with the message that without breasts, women are not whole (Mackel, 2000). The female breasts are often seen as symbols of sexuality, femininity, and motherhood. It is frequently difficult for women to sort out their own feelings about their breasts from the messages that women receive from embedded cultural values, social interactions, individual experiences, and the media. For the most part, women have allowed their breasts to be defined by others' viewpoints, and have allowed their own views to get lost in the shuffle. Western society appears to be breast obsessed, and many American women fear losing their breasts from breast cancer more than dying from it (Ferguson & Kasper , 2000).

Many women still experience a sense that discussion of breast cancer should be repressed. There has been a persistent idea that cancer of any sort should not be controlled, possibly because cancer itself is perceived by some as uncontrollable. Another reason women may be hesitant to openly discuss breast cancer is that open dialogue about women's breasts is usually not considered appropriate in general conversation. Discussions and comments about breasts, other than in a sexual context, are typically subdued. This seems to be paradoxical. Breasts are typically viewed as inappropriate for discussion because they are often perceived as sexual organs: However, the only socially acceptable way to talk about breasts in this society has been to talk about them as sexual objects.

In an exploratory study of 12 middle to high income African American women, all college graduates aged 42 to 64 years; stories about experiences related to the participants' breasts were collected. The primary aim of this study was to ascertain whether there is an association between women's experiences related to their breasts and their current breast cancer screening behaviors. Therefore, the primary research question was, "Is there an association between women's experiences related to their breasts and their current breast cancer screening behaviors?" This study was guided by critical social theory (CST) within a feminist perspective. Previous studies addressing the breast cancer screening behaviors of African American women have not examined the possible association between current breast cancer screening behaviors and women's memories and feelings concerning their breasts and breast cancer screening experiences. While retaining the goals of CST, emancipation and enlightenment, a feminist perspective not only allowed me to describe and interpret phenomena of women's lives, but it also raised consciousness about breast cancer and breast cancer screening, and may bring about changes in the screening behaviors of the women who participated in this study (Hall & Stevens, 1991).

Evolution of the Study

As a female African American health care professional, the author has an impassioned interest in health promotion issues, particularly minority women's health concerns. Very early in my academic endeavors, I completed a review of empirical studies that focused on African American women's cancer beliefs and cancer screening behaviors. …

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