Life Beyond A Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Women's Constructions of Breast Cancer in Online Media
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women in Aotearoa New Zealand and eighty-five percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in Aotearoa will live longer than 10 years after diagnosis. After a breast cancer diagnosis, women must negotiate their new lives and identities as ‘cancer survivors’, or someone who has had cancer, drawing on forms of support and information to make meaning of their experiences. Previous research has identified that online media spaces are used by women with a breast cancer diagnosis for information, support, validation and reassurance. Although, there is minimal research investigating how women construct and negotiate life with a breast cancer diagnosis online. The main objective of this research was to explore how women make meaning of life with a breast cancer diagnosis within online breast cancer media texts. Existing online breast cancer narratives were collected from two community organisation websites and reflexive thematic analysis was used to identify higher order themes. This research adopted a social constructionist epistemology and took up a neoliberal and postfeminist theoretical lens to inform theme identification. The findings demonstrated that women drew on neoliberal and postfeminist discourses of individual responsibility, control, exemplified empowerment, idealised femininity and ‘good cancer survivor’ discourse to make meaning of their life after a breast cancer diagnosis. Women constructed their selves and other women as individually responsible for engaging in self- surveillance and staying in control of their cancer, positioning control as desirable as suggested through ‘good cancer survivor’ discourse. Women also drew on postfeminist ideals of hetero femininity and constructed breast cancer as disruptive to their ability to take up culturally desirable and idealised feminine identities. However, women contradicted this by positioning themselves as individually responsible for being “unable” mothers. Most women tended to put in work to achieve an idealised physical feminine appearance, whereas some took up alternative discourses of femininity to make sense of their appearance in the context of cancer. The implications of this research suggest that while online media spaces may be used as a source of information and support by women with a breast cancer diagnosis, they also sustain dominant breast cancer survivorship discourses which tend to dismiss the often difficult realities of living with a breast cancer diagnosis. This may have negative consequences for women’s psychosocial wellbeing, as they are constantly presented with idealised forms of cancer survivorship. Overall, there is a need to develop alternative discourses of breast cancer survivorship which are in alignment with the realities of women with a breast cancer diagnosis. A shift in dominant discourses of breast cancer survivorship should have a positive impact for women with a breast cancer diagnosis by legitimising their experiences.