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What it means to be a ''survivor''

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Women who get treated for breast cancer, have mastectomies, get their breasts reconstructed, start families or simply live to tell the tale of having the disease, often call themselves "survivors." However, because of the emotional reaction - positive or negative, depending on the person - that the word can elicit, one researcher recently asked women how they defined it.

Karen Kaiser, of the University of Illinois at Chicago Cancer Center, interviewed 39 women who had completed treatment for breast cancer between 3 and 18 months beforehand.

What she found and later published in the journal Social Science and Medicine is that oftentimes a woman's upbringing or her prognosis can affect how she defines "survivor," assuming she even chooses to use the word to describe herself.

Some participants reported feeling like a survivor long before being diagnosed with cancer, sometimes because of tough upbringings. These women often said that getting through cancer simply reaffirmed their view of themselves as surviviors.

Still others did not like using the term. Kaiser said that this dislike was often a function of a woman's chances of getting breast cancer a second time.

The overall five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 89 percent, the National Cancer Institute states.

Kailer K. The meaning of the survivor identity for women with breast cancer. Social Science and Medicine. July 2008. 67.1, 79-87. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953608001809 Accessed June 15, 2011.

SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Breast. National Cancer Institute. http://www.seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html Accessed June 15, 2011.

Extract: Because of the emotional reaction - positive or negative, depending on the person - that the word can elicit, one researcher recently asked women how they defined "survivor."

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