Academic journal article Research and Theory for Nursing Practice

The "Silenced" Voices of Women Cancer Survivors: Bodily Experiences from an Existential Perspective

Academic journal article Research and Theory for Nursing Practice

The "Silenced" Voices of Women Cancer Survivors: Bodily Experiences from an Existential Perspective

Article excerpt

This study explores women's embodiment from an existential-phenomenological approach. Gynecological cancer was chosen as the condition of interest to under- stand socially formed gender via female bodies as a lived experience of socially and historically situated women. This empirical material is based on individual interviews with 10 Portuguese cancer survivors. A phenomenological-hermeneutical method, inspired by Ricoeur (1976), was used to extract the meaningful content from the women's experiences. These narratives include life changes and recovery transitions in and through the lived body. By seeing cancer survival in terms of the lived body, this study opens the possibility of articulating a deeper and clearer understanding of people's experience of cancer trauma with gender-sensitive health services.

Keywords: cancer; gender; health care; phenomenology; survivor; women

Jean Piaget Higher School of Health Sciences, Viseu, Portugal

Oncological disease, among the chronic and serious diseases, takes on a special dimension because of the myths and beliefs that the disease created and because of the insecurity, the irrational fear, and the unpredictability it generates in the patient and the family system (Akyüz, Güvenç, Ustünsöz, & Kaya, 2008; McNamara, 2000). Survival rates for different forms of cancer have increased substantially in recent decades (Eiser, 2004) as a result of advances in methods of early detection and treatment. This has led to an increasing number of individuals living with cancer for prolonged periods (Allen, Savadatti, & Levy, 2009). Consequently, there is a growing body of research focusing on psychosocial issues faced by cancer survivors on a daily basis. Some survivors continue to find day-to-day life difficult and the issues of survivorship can be challenging (Thewes, Buttow, Girgis, & Pendlebuiy, 2004). Cancer survivorship1 is a fundamental existential issue and is a term often used by health care providers, researchers, and patients to represent the state or process of living following cancer diagnosis, regardless of how long a person lives (Zebrack, 2000).

Several researchers have presented insights into the world of gynecological can- cer survivors. In their qualitative studies, they have documented that a cancer leads to comprehensive changes in the lives of individuals (Laganà, McGarvey, Classen, & Koopman, 2001 ; Molassiotis, Chan, Yam, Chan, & Lam, 2002; Sekse, Raaheim, Blaaka, & Gjengedal, 2010). Gynecological cancer is associated with particular needs related to unique sexuality, identity, reproductive, and femininity demands (Holland & Reznik, 2005; Tomich & Helgeson, 2002; Walton, Reeve, Brown, & Farquhar, 2010). To date, no needs assessment of the gynecological cancer survivor population has been con- ducted in Portugal. The unique qualities of gynecological cancer and the shortcomings of the current literature motivated this research study on this peculiar form of cancer.

The goal of this article is to present and discuss, from a phenomenological and feminist perspective, findings from a qualitative study of how female cancer survivors experience their lived body and lifeworld after cancer. By understanding women's experiences, multidisciplinary health care strategies can be developed to meet the needs of this population.


This article starts off from a patient's perspective, where the patient is regarded as a whole person with unique experiences of health, illness, and life (Dahlberg & Drew, 1997). The phenomenological ideas of lifeworld and lived body are the basis for understanding the wholeness of a person. The clinical world of Western medicine speaks of symptoms as bodily experiences that indicate underlying disease (Lyons & Chamberlain, 2006). Its biomedical model objectifies the body as a mechanical system and regards disease as a failure of some part of the system "through an engineering metaphor" (Doyal, 1995, p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.