Exploring the body image and camaraderie experiences of breast cancer survivors in endurance sporting events
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Breast cancer is the most common cancer in North America (American Cancer Society [ACS], 2012; Canadian Cancer Society [CCS], 2012). Women diagnosed with breast cancer undergo a traumatic experience that disrupts their quality of life (Holmberg, Scott, Alexy, & Fife, 2001). In the psychological domain of quality of life, body image is disrupted due to the changes associated with breast cancer surgeries and treatments (Hormes et al., 2008). This is important because breast cancer survivors’ quality of life is an essential part of their survivorship (Kaiser, 2008). Evidence has suggested that physical activity shows improvements in body image, survival rates, and decreased risk of mortality (Schmitz, 2011). Furthermore, a unique form of physical activity associated with breast cancer that has risen among this population is endurance sporting events, such as dragon boating and running (Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation [CBCF], 2012; Parry, 2008). Endurance sporting events are common among breast cancer organizations to raise funds and spread breast cancer awareness (Kaiser, 2008). However, they also provide breast cancer survivors with a fun and healthy sporting environment to explore their body image as well as shared experiences with other breast cancer survivors. Researchers have shown endurance sporting events to be a comfortable environment for breast cancer survivors to allow their experiences to unfold (McDonough, Sabiston, & Crocker, 2008; Sabiston, McDonough, & Crocker, 2007). Due to the uniqueness of each woman’s breast cancer experience, it is important to explore their body image experiences to understand their personal stories and provide meaning to enhance their quality of life as breast cancer survivors. The general purpose of this dissertation is to explore the body image and camaraderie experiences of breast cancer survivors in endurance sporting events. Furthermore, the guiding research question of this dissertation is: What are the body image and camaraderie experiences of breast cancer survivors participating in endurance sporting events? Narrative research methodology will be used to provide insight into this research question across two studies. To address the gap in the literature, Study 1 of my dissertation provided narratives of three breast cancer survivors’ body image experiences as they trained for and participated in the CIBC Run for the Cure 5k. Two individual semi-structured interviews, prolonged engagement, and blogging were used as sources of data collection over a time period of 10 weeks. Data analyses led to the emergence of three themes: "new normal", goal setting, and camaraderie. Camaraderie, representing the shared breast cancer survivors’ experiences that allowed the women to focus on their physical capabilities, accept their bodies, and create an overall body image experience, was a particularly salient theme to the women throughout their training. Hence, the purpose of Study 2 was to explore the camaraderie narrative experiences of breast cancer survivors in a season of dragon boating. Focus group interviews and creative practices were conducted with a core group of 11 breast cancer survivors over a six month time period. The women defined camaraderie as fellowship, teamwork, and support shared between women with breast cancer experiences. Subsequent data analyses resulted in five themes: attention please, paddles up, take it away, hold the boat, and reach. Overall, camaraderie was shown to be crucial to the survivorship of the women, as social experiences are an important component to life after breast cancer. The findings were written as a collective (e.g., camaraderie) narrative. Taken together, these two studies demonstrated that body image and camaraderie are important components to breast cancer survivors’ participation in endurance sporting events. More specifically, both studies informed the literature by describing the relationship between the camaraderie and body image experiences for the women involved in both the CIBC Run for the Cure 5k and a season of dragon boating. Camaraderie was the motive that created an overall positive body image experience for the women. Furthermore, endurance sporting events associated with breast cancer formed natural, comfortable, and safe environments for the women to express their experiences. In addition, camaraderie seemed to be a key process through which the women were able to accept their bodies and the body-related changes that resulted from cancer. In both studies, breast cancer survivors’ participation in endurance sports included camaraderie experiences that led to fulfilling the physical, emotional, and social needs as a mode for the women to move beyond their breast cancer experiences.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeHumbert, Louise; Sabiston, Catherine M.; Thomas, Roanne
Copyright DateDecember 2014
breast cancer survivors