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Emotional Toll From Disclosure of Illness

womanUnfortunately, women diagnosed with breast cancer often bear an emotional burden when sharing their diagnosis to loved ones.

The challenge of managing the feelings of others at precisely the time when they need support themselves is the focus of new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

The research is the first study to comparatively and qualitatively examine how breast cancer survivors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds share the news of their illness with family, friends and acquaintances.

The researchers interviewed 164 breast cancer survivors to examine the “emotion work” involved in disclosing a breast cancer diagnosis. These survivors included a mix of racially diverse women born in the United States and immigrants, and they were recruited throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

“Women diagnosed with breast cancer face an uphill emotional battle,” said Grace J. Yoo, a sociologist at San Francisco State University and the study’s primary investigator.

“At a time when they are forced to deal with their own vulnerabilities, women with breast cancer must also navigate the vulnerabilities of loved ones as they react to the news.”

For women—typically perceived as caregivers and expected to put the emotions of others above their own—a breast cancer diagnosis presents a paradox, according to Yoo. Women must face the challenge of determining how to ask for help from others when they are typically seen as the caregiver.

According to interviews with breast cancer survivors, different strategies were employed in conversations with close family members compared to those outside the family. Survivors viewed informing their family of the diagnosis as their most difficult task following a diagnosis.

Most respondents felt the need to strategically manage the way family members were told in order to protect their loved ones and to provide comfort and reassurance.

Contrary to the approach they used with their families, women often related their diagnosis to peers spontaneously. Most respondents were surprised by the extent of the support they received as a result of these unplanned conversations and by the depth and breadth of their own social networks.

“Women who limit their emotions in discussing their breast cancer diagnosis often limit the possibilities for support they can receive,” said Yoo.

“Involving and including others in an illness increases intimacy among friends and family and opens the door to additional support.”

Source: American Sociological Association

Emotional Toll From Disclosure of Illness

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Emotional Toll From Disclosure of Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 19, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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