Breast Cancer Confessions Are Work -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Breast Cancer Confessions Are Work

Photo: A woman looking sad and alone

Sharing the burden is difficult for
women who are usually expected to
shoulder emotions of others; © SXC

Women diagnosed with breast cancer shoulder the emotional burden of disclosing their diagnosis to loved ones, managing the feelings of others at precisely the time when they need support themselves, the research shows.

The study comparatively and qualitatively examines how breast cancer survivors share the news of their illness with family, friends and acquaintances. The researchers interviewed 164 breast cancer survivors to examine the "emotion work" involved in disclosing a breast cancer diagnosis. The survivors were racially diverse, both born in the United States and immigrants.

"Women diagnosed with breast cancer face an uphill emotional battle," said Grace J. Yoo, the study's primary investigator. "At a time when they are forced to deal with their own vulnerabilities, they must also navigate the vulnerabilities of loved ones." For women, a breast cancer diagnosis presents a paradox, according to Yoo. They face the challenge of determining how to ask for help from others when they are typically seen as the caregiver.

According to interviews with breast cancer survivors, different strategies were employed in conversations with close family members compared to those outside the family. Survivors viewed informing their family as their most difficult task following a diagnosis. Most respondents felt the need to strategically manage the way family members were told in order to protect their loved ones and to provide comfort and reassurance.

Contrary to the approach they used with their families, women often related their diagnosis to peers spontaneously. Most respondents were surprised by the extent of support they received as a result of these unplanned conversations and by the depth and breadth of their own social networks.

"Women who limit their emotions in discussing their breast cancer diagnosis often limit the possibilities for support they can receive," said Yoo. "Involving and including others in an illness increases intimacy and opens the door to additional support."; Source: American Sociological Association