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Taking Charge of Breast Cancer

Taking Charge of Breast Cancer

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Taking Charge of Breast Cancer
    Book Description:

    Vividly showcasing diverse voices and experiences, this book illuminates an all-too-common experience by exploring how women respond to a diagnosis of breast cancer. Drawing from interviews in which women describe their journeys from diagnosis through treatment and recovery, Julia A. Ericksen explores topics ranging from women's trust in their doctors to their feelings about appearance and sexuality. She includes the experiences of women who do not put their faith in traditional medicine as well as those who do, and she takes a look at the long-term consequences of this disease. What emerges from her powerful and often moving account is a compelling picture of how cultural messages about breast cancer shape women's ideas about their illness, how breast cancer affects their relationships with friends and family, why some of them become activists, and more. Ericksen, herself a breast cancer survivor, has written an accessible book that reveals much about the ways in which we narrate our illnesses and about how these narratives shape the paths we travel once diagnosed.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94118-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Writing a book about women′s experiences with breast cancer allowed me to come to terms with my own diagnosis in December 1997. Like many of those I interviewed, I had not seen breast cancer on my horizon. My mother was still alive and physically robust in her nineties, as were my father and his sister. I had heard numerous stories of ancestors with similar longevity. So strong was this theme in my family that, although both my brother and I had experienced the same life-threatening illness as adolescents, I had long believed that old age was the only thing that...

  6. ONE Telling Stories
    (pp. 13-37)

    Jo-Ellen′s breast cancer story takes the form of a woman′s worst nightmare. Her adoptive mother was a forty-year survivor, so Jo-Ellen knew the disease was something that women might get but could also recover from.¹ Upon finding a lump at age twenty-eight, Jo-Ellen went to a gynecologist who told her that it was only a cyst, so she did not go for a mammogram and ultrasound until a year later when the lump was still there. After that, things moved pretty quickly through a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction, chemotherapy, and tamoxifen.² Jo-Ellen was newly married with her life ahead of...

  7. TWO Following the Doctors’ Orders
    (pp. 38-62)

    Like most of the women I interviewed, Carla, a single mother of three young children, told a well-rehearsed story, beginning with the time before she was diagnosed, moving through treatment, and ending with life after breast cancer. Such accounts often reflected the stories about cancer that women had seen in the media or heard described by others. But where some women featured themselves as heroines, Carla′s story described a victim to whom bad things happened, either as a result of her own irresponsible behavior or because of circumstances that she could not prevent. Women such as Carla, who gave accounts...

  8. THREE Patients and Doctors as Partners
    (pp. 63-99)

    When Joann, a thirty-four-year-old mother of three children under age seven, learned she had breast cancer, she was not surprised at being diagnosed so young. Her family had a history of breast cancer, including Joann′s mother, her mother′s sister, and her grandmother, and so she had long assumed she had inherited the risk.¹ At the time Joann discovered her lump, her mother was terminally ill with lung cancer, having survived breast cancer for twenty-one years. When her mother died a week later, Joann had told no one about her own lump; she waited until after the funeral. Joann was so...

  9. FOUR Faith in the Ultimate Authority
    (pp. 100-123)

    Bella, an African American woman in her sixties, looked much younger with a spectacular figure and lovely face. She had worked with cancer patients, so she knew that breast cancer could happen to anyone, and she checked herself ″at least once a week.″ She reported that the lump leading to her own diagnosis ″just stuck right out of nowhere.″ She attributed this early warning to God; she reasoned that God ″had to be there. I mean it just stuck right out of nowhere.″ Even so, she was stunned when the subsequent biopsy revealed breast cancer. Her immediate reaction was that...

  10. FIVE Opposing the Mainstream
    (pp. 124-153)

    Before her breast cancer diagnosis, Violet, a fifty-year-old American writer living in Greece, had little confidence in the medical profession. However, since her mother′s death from breast cancer some years earlier, she had become anxious about her breasts and had started having regular mammograms. A self-described hypochondriac, Violet reported that her self-exams were not consistent or thorough. Instead, she said, ″I would just go grabbing at myself, anytime I was having a panic attack.″ She noted that she did these exams ″more in a sense of coming out of fear than just as a routine,″ because ″I knew it was...

  11. SIX The Assault on the Breast
    (pp. 154-180)

    Amanda, the youngest woman in my study, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age twenty-six. Amanda, who worked in information technology, responded to her diagnosis as a biomedical expert. She first worried about her chances of survival, and then, to reassure herself, she learned everything about her disease. Since she was single, she also worried that breast cancer would make it difficult for her to marry and to have children. Because her type of tumor had a high probability of a reoccurrence in the same breast, Amanda′s physician gave her no choice about the surgical technique; he performed a mastectomy....

  12. SEVEN Bodies after Cancer
    (pp. 181-204)

    After their treatment for breast cancer, the women I interviewed remained acutely aware of the changes to their breasts every time they looked in the mirror. Postlumpectomy breasts usually showed the damage clearly. For women who had a mastectomy, reconstruction could lessen its impact, but reconstructed breasts never looked or felt as they had before surgery. Most women mourned these permanent changes as constant reminders of what they had been through.

    However, in addition to the direct effects of breast surgery, women experienced other bodily changes. These, too, were usually for the worse. Two of the most devastating were hair...

  13. EIGHT Breast Cancer Activism, Education, and Support
    (pp. 205-232)

    In theNew York Times Sunday Magazinefor December 22, 1996, Lisa Belkin asked how breast cancer had become ″this year′s cause.″¹ With the benefit of hindsight, the only problem with her question is that she should have asked how breast cancer became the cause of the 1990s. We might also ask why it remains so prominent. Pink ribbons still abound; if anything, they have become more ubiquitous.² And the plethora of support services and activities is such that, once a woman is diagnosed, she can make breast cancer education and activism a full-time avocation for the rest of her...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-258)

    Of my ninety-six respondents, three had metastatic breast cancer at the time of the interview.¹ These women were not able to put their illness experiences behind them; the illness stretched before them endlessly. All three had response patterns that differed from those of other women in this study, because each had moved from one response category to others as the disease progressed.

    One of the three was Jo-Ellen, whose story is discussed at the beginning of chapter 1. Jo-Ellen had started out as the perfect example of a biomedical expert. A nurse with a master′s degree in a related medical...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 259-292)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-306)
  17. Index
    (pp. 307-319)