Western culture puts enormous pressure on women to take charge of their breast cancer, but not ever women responds the same to the new challenge.
Coping styles vary say Temple University sociologist Julia Ericksen. She believes each style is valid and effective in helping one make sense of her illness.
Ericksen set out to explore how women respond to a diagnosis of breast cancer shortly after receiving her own diagnosis. She discovered there are four types of responders, including the “take charge” type, each valuable for different women.
And, because breasts are one of the most important Western symbols of femininity and breast cancer receives more attention in the media than other forms of cancer, Ericksen also investigated how the cultural messages women receive about breast cancer inform their journeys.
Examples of her research include:
• A “religious responder,” Shantal, 51, drew strength from her faith in God. After recovery, Shantal became an activist and advocate for African American women with breast cancer.
• An “alternative medicine expert,” Hannah, 44, turned to yoga, acupuncture, biofeedback techniques and visualization tapes during her treatment.
• A “traditional responder,’ Sheila, 42, experienced medical problems following reconstruction and wrestled with issues pertaining to body image.
• A “biomedical expert,” Donna, 48, made her own decisions about her care and delegated the job of responding to friends’ inquiries to her husband.
Ericksen’s interviews of 96 women, aged 26-72, in the Philadelphia area shed light on how race, income, religion, educational background and sexual orientation contribute to the experience of illness.
It’s important for doctors, family members and friends to understand the response type of their patient or loved one with breast cancer and to resist urging a different kind of response which might be uncomfortable or ineffective.
“A woman doesn’t have to feel guilty about being a traditional responder, for example. Perhaps she has small children and doesn’t have time to devote to every little detail of her care,” said Ericksen. “That’s okay.”
Source: Temple University