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Constructing understandings, renegotiating lives : women's experiences of arm morbidity after breast cancer



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This research explores women’s experiences of arm morbidity after breast cancer. Biomedical knowledge about arm morbidity is limited and often unclear, and there has been even less focus on the health issue from a sociological perspective. While studies do exist about the experiences of arm morbidity, more investigation is required to realize its influence on the daily lives of breast cancer survivors. The purpose of my research is to convey constructed meanings of arm morbidity experiences to indicate the impact it has on women’s everyday lives. Qualitative data were collected via twelve in-depth, semi-structured interviews, as six participants were each interviewed twice. The interviews were focused on a broad range of themes in order to create a comprehensive understanding of the women’s experiences of arm morbidity in their daily lives. Phenomenological and feminist approaches were both used to guide the research process and analyze the data, and a range of sociological ideas also informed the analysis, such as chronic illness, disability, gender roles, and embodiment. The illness narratives produced two broad areas relevant to the women’s experiences. The first major topic involves the meanings directly related to experiences of arm morbidity as a health issue, and is divided into four themes: 1) experiencing bodies with arm morbidity, 2) treatment, 3) information and knowledge, and 4) support. The second major topic involves understandings of arm morbidity as it affects the women’s lives, in which three themes emerge: 1) changing abilities and adjusting roles, 2) identity and health, and 3) the influence of illness on approaches to life. As existing research is sparse, the women’s narratives present a new level of depth to understandings of arm morbidity experiences that does not exist in current literature. It is evident that more study about arm morbidity is necessary to construct important knowledge and benefit both biological and sociological understandings of this survivorship issue.



arm morbidity, breast cancer, chronic illness, disability, socio-health, survivorship



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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