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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Breast cancer experience : mothers, adolescent daughters and the mother-daughter relationship McTaggart, Deborah L.


This interpretive descriptive study explored the meaning and lived experience of breast cancer for 5 mothers and their 5 adolescent daughters, and for these mother-daughter relationships. Mothers had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 2 and 6 years ago, and their daughters were between 11 and 13 years old at the time of the diagnosis. A series of six in-depth interviews with mothers and daughters, conducted both jointly and separately, afforded a view of aspects of experience that were shared and privately held. Interview data were supplemented with participants' drawings of their experience, and the researcher's observations. The interpretive descriptive framework employed was augmented with the lens of portraiture in the conduct of study, data analysis, and composition of the product of inquiry. Portraiture utilizes five essential features: voice, relationship, context, emergent themes, and aesthetic whole. Individual and relational experience and meaning were described in four themes: (a) Inhabiting Another Landscape, (b) Intending and Acting, (c) Acquiring Wisdom, and (d) Enduring Mother-Daughter Relationships. The theme of Inhabiting Another Landscape described a trajectory of experience and meaning that began with diagnosis, persisted through prolonged effects of treatment, and continued in the present and into imagined futures. Mothers and daughters had privately held concerns about the mothers' breast cancer and the possibility that breast cancer might one day visit daughters as well. The most prominent reminder of vulnerability was recurrence among friends in the social networks of breast cancer. The theme of Intending and Acting described the mutual caring and protectiveness of these mothers and daughters. Mothers and daughters described actions and strategies to minimize the threat of breast cancer for themselves and for the other person. Actions included attempts by both persons to create and maintain a sense of normalcy. Conversations between mothers and daughters on the experience of breast cancer were limited, in particular around prognosis and the possibility of death. The theme of Acquiring Wisdom described personal growth and change after the diagnosis of breast cancer. For both persons, realizations of mortality brought a new perspective on what was important in life. Mothers passed on the wisdom gained from their experience either directly in what was said to daughters or indirectly in the attitudes and behaviours they modelled. The theme of Enduring Mother-Daughter Relationships described the quality of mother-daughter relationships and the import of breast cancer for these relationships. Mothers and daughters described their relationships as close. Daughters described their relationships as closer than most, in part because of their experience with breast cancer. Parenting and being parented was in some cases complicated by breast cancer. Friction between mothers and daughters was described as par for the course during the teen years, but one source of friction was the unexpected and prolonged effects of treatment. The findings in this study indicate the value in attending to the voices of teenage daughters, which remain largely absent in the literature. Mothers and daughters have needs for information and support that are not being met. The emotional landscape of breast cancer, which entails prolonged uncertainty for both mothers and daughters, deserves further study. Personal growth described by both mothers and daughters provides an alternative view of the largely problem-focused perspective in the literature of the meaning and experience of breast cancer.

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