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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Renegotiating the self : how eight women diagnosed with breast cancer re-shaped a sense of self-identity Johnston, Dawn


A narrative analysis was conducted to explore the research question: How do women reshape their sense of self-identify after being diagnosed with breast cancer? The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer can leave women feeling as if their pre-cancer identity no longer fits for who they perceive themselves to be. There is a need for a better understanding of how women negotiate their experiences into a post-diagnosis self-identity. Counselling psychology is well-suited for this research because of its emphasis on helping individuals to navigate the various social, emotional, relational, and health-related concerns that women with breast cancer experience. A social constructionist framework informed the exploration of the social and interpersonal contexts within which women experience breast cancer. Eight women participated and volunteered their time and their intimate experiences. Each semi-structured interview was audio-taped and transcribed verbatim. A holistic-content approach was used to interpret and analyze each interview in order to write an individual narrative for each participant. An across-narratives thematic analysis identified six common themes including: 1) The Future-Focused Self; 2) The “I am Not a Survivor” Self; 3) The Intentional Self; 4) The Mindful Self; 5) The Social Self; and, 6) The Self as a Woman with Breast Cancer. The themes were validated by peer and expert reviewers. Participants’ narratives and themes were then applied to a model of re-shaping self-identity as a transition, in order to better understand the influences of the personal, social, and cultural contexts in which women experience breast cancer. The resulting model holds implications for future research, theory and practice. Previous models of the breast cancer experience hypothesize about how women’s self-identities are impacted by an experience of breast cancer, while the current model explains how women move through such a process. Counselling psychologists and healthcare professionals can use the model to identify where in the process of the cancer experience that a woman may be, and which contextual factors may be influencing her experience. Future research can expand on this model by exploring it in greater depth, and longitudinally in order to better delineate how the process unfolds.

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