Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

"I Do Not Allow Myself to Be Harmed, It Is a Luxury; I Have Two Children Who Need Me": Remarks for Planning an Experiential Research Methodology in Women Who Have Undergone Mastectomy Due to Breast Cancer

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

"I Do Not Allow Myself to Be Harmed, It Is a Luxury; I Have Two Children Who Need Me": Remarks for Planning an Experiential Research Methodology in Women Who Have Undergone Mastectomy Due to Breast Cancer

Article excerpt

Abstract

Breast cancer is a severe disease, which in combination with mastectomy poses particular psychosocial problems. After mastectomy, once the threat to life has been dealt with, intense psychosocial processes are caused to the woman who is trying to come in terms with the new body image, creating a new concept for themselves and their social identity, as women, mothers and companions. The woman's breast is connected with sexuality as well as motherhood and thus, mastectomy problematizes the very foundations of female identity. The goal of this research is to prove, through biographical interview, the lived experience of breast cancer utilizing the meaning of biographical disruption. This paper presents critical remarks for a qualitative research, in order to record with reliability the way women rearrange their life, reconstructing their identity after mastectomy. We suggest the use of narrative method, combined with a research planning based on Grounded theory and the meaning of "biographical disruption".

Keywords: breast cancer, grounded theory, biographical disruption

Introduction2

Cancer is a severe disease, which inflicts a large portion of the population. The severity of the consequences on the quality of life and the immediate life threat, is directly connected with the social and psychological level through representations and phobias. Apart from being a severe biological problem, cancer is closely linked with the way that we socially approach this disease which "stigmatizes" the patient or offer help, especially psychosocial. Beyond the biological issues and the side-effects following, cancer is also linked in a direct way with psychosocial needs which surpass the help offered by the scientific medicine. A noteworthy element, which should be further, researched and accentuated, is the dimension of lived experience of the disease. Such an experience encompasses the way in which patients handle the transition from health to disease and the opposite, and structure their daily life as well as their interpersonal relationships. Cancer, especially breast cancer and mastectomy, total or simple (tumor removal) cause severe upsetting to multiple levels. The surgical intervention modifies the body while it creates multiple side-effects to the way the individual female particularity is formed, as well as social identity. The appearance of breast cancer leads to the surgical "trauma" of the breast, its total removal or partial due to tumor removal; the breast is an organ linked biologically and symbolically with female identity, with reference to motherhood as well as sexuality.

The female breast, especially for the modern western societies, has been identified with the essence of sexuality (we can simply consider that breast augmentation and lift operations are a particularly widespread form of plastic surgery (Alexias et al., 2012)). Simultaneously, once it is a necessary means for the nutrition of the infant, it constitutes a substantial element of motherhood. Cancer and the consequent mastectomy are therefore "problematizing" two basic elements of constitution and structuring of female social roles thus contributing to a particular life situation in which the woman who "struggles" for her life, has to identify with and make compromises with her new self (Weisman & Worden, 1976; Landmark & Wahl, 2002).

At this point, it is obvious that the reliable recording and "in-depth" understanding of the lived experience of cancer and the way to adjust to this new life situation after mastectomy is gaining particular attention (Lerner, 2001; Lauver et al., 1995; Facione & Facione, 2006; Radley & Bell 2007). In this context, one of the objectives of the paper is to record a highly suggested methodology for conducting qualitative research, using biographical interviews, in order to accentuate and help understand the lived-experience dimension of breast cancer and mastectomy. The analysis of biographical interviews is suggested, based on: a) the Grounded Theory from the methodological point of view, and b) the analysis of biographical disruption concerning the basic theoretic guidelines. …

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