Reconstruction Perspectives: A Mosaic of Narrartives from Women with Breast Cancer about Breast Reconstruction

Open Access
Author:
Santoro, Devon C
Area of Honors:
Anthropology
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Patricia Lyons Johnson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Timothy Michael Ryan, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • breast cancer
  • breast reconstruction
  • narrative
  • interview
  • gender
  • femininity
Abstract:
Many breast cancer patients have to make the important decision of whether to accept or reject breast reconstruction after breast surgery. Understanding the decision making process of reconstruction can show how women view their breasts in terms of their appearance. Breasts, in many ways, are linked to a woman’s cultural and personal identity. My hypothesis is that women's desire to have breast reconstruction post-breast surgery related to their treatment is driven by a desire to regain a feminine appearance that will positively affect how they are perceived. Public self-representation is important, and for women, breasts are indicators of femininity and are connected to female roles in American culture. Other possible factors that may shape a desire to have breast reconstruction may include a desire to regain pre-breast surgery breast size/shape independent of social perceptions, or a desire to increase feminine attractiveness for current or future partners. These possibilities will be considered as part of the testing of the major hypothesis, as will the desire to avoid visibility of breast surgery scars and absence of breast tissue, both of which may create psychological trauma. In this thesis I have discussed and interpreted the audio-recorded interviews I conducted with participants on the topic of breast reconstruction. Additionally, I have analyzed their narratives regarding what they found most meaningful and relevant to their experiences. My study has tried to understand my participants’ attitudes towards accepting or rejecting breast reconstruction, and analyzed the meaning given to breasts as a gendered part of the body. This study is not representative of all women with breast cancer, but it may identify overlooked areas of concern and/or reiterate issues that are important to the women who participated in my research. This thesis has focused on the importance of the narratives of these women and others who are going through this experience.