Date of Award

2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Lekkie Hopkins

Abstract

What can women's narratives contribute to our understanding of breast cancer and to feminist theories of the body? This thesis explores the meanings women construct to make sense of embodied experiences of breast cancer, and the profound experience of breast loss. Rich contextual data was elicited from in depth, guided conversations with five premenopausal women who have undergone mastectomy. Adopting feminist methodology, biographic-narrative was used to place the body at the heart of inquiry. This thesis explores the personal and theoretical meanings of mastectomy, embedded in the larger story of how these five women experience their breasts, throughout their lives. Attending closely to subjective experiences, I hold these stories to the light of feminist analyses of the dominant discourses that shape {and are shaped by} these experiences. Each woman was invited to tell the situated story of her body, with emphasis on breasts and their meanings, functions and significance, across the life story. Pivotal moments in a trajectory of life events provided focal points for inductive analysis. Data was taped, transcribed and coded into themes, drawing on phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions. Moving between feminist analyses of biomedical discourses, verbatim insights from each participant, and excerpts from my research journal, my aim was to co-create a multi-layered narrative text that affirms the body as a site of knowledge, and contributes to feminist theorizing about the body. Findings indicate that short and long term impacts of chemotherapy on fertility, and associated hair loss, menopausal symptoms, and weight gain, may be more of a challenge to a woman's identity, sense of femininity and sexuality, than the removal of a breast. Each woman in this study emphasized a desire for symmetry and balance, with or without breasts. The narrative structuring of the thesis provides gaps for analysis and reflection, and allows commonalities to be foregrounded, without abstracting and effacing individual experience. This is a collaborative project that contextualizes breast cancer and mastectomy and allows women's myriad voices to contribute to new knowledges about breasts, and breast cancer, exceeding parameters of present understandings.

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