UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Disruptive breast cancer narratives: shaping cultural politics, informing feminist bioethics and performing repair Nielsen, Emilia Victoria Llewellyn


This project explores the narration of experiential knowledge about breast cancer arguing that personal narratives, in the form of “disruptive breast cancer narratives,” have the potential to shift public perceptions, breast cancer culture and biomedical understandings of the disease. In Chapter 2, I explore the potential of narrative enquiry in qualitative health research and establish my interdisciplinary framework which turns to patient-centred knowledge creation, affective illness histories and archiving feelings as well as cultural studies of the body, critical gender and sexuality studies. Chapter 3 outlines my theoretical approach to disruptive breast cancer narratives and involves an exploration of the scholarly potential and limitations of illness narrative study and turns to narrative approaches to feminist bioethics. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 explore disruptive breast cancer narratives through close readings of narrative texts. In Chapter 4, I examine feminist anger through Barbara Ehrenreich’s (2001) “Welcome to Cancerland,” Audre Lorde’s (1981) The Cancer Journals and Kathlyn Conway’s (1997) Ordinary Life. In Chapter 5, I read Wendy Mesley’s (2006) Chasing the Cancer Answer and Kris Karr’s (2007) Crazy Sexy Cancer as documentary films that purport to disrupt the dominant discourses of breast cancer by exploring them in relation to discourses of personal responsibility and a figure I call the “cancer killjoy.” In Chapter 6, I begin with an examination of Eve Sedgwick’s (1993) “White Glasses” which provides a powerful critique of how gender and sexuality are constituted through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatments and advance this critique through readings of Catherine Lord’s (2004) The Summer of Her Baldness and the television drama The L Word (2006); this chapter is guided by S. Lochlann Jain’s (2007a, 2007b) conception of “elegiac politics.” My project concludes in Chapter 7, by exploring the potential of counternarratives of illness and of performing resistance, patienthood and narrative repair; here, I necessarily reflect on my own experience of chronic illness.

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