Making Sense of Women's Experiences of Infertility after Breast Cancer Treatment: A Feminist Materialist Discourse Analysis

PhD Thesis

Adams, Eike Ulrike 2008. Making Sense of Women's Experiences of Infertility after Breast Cancer Treatment: A Feminist Materialist Discourse Analysis. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsAdams, Eike Ulrike
TypePhD Thesis

Every year over 8,500 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. Current treatments can lead to severe long-term consequences, including
infertility. Young women have been shown to have particularly high levels of psychosocial distress after a breast cancer diagnosis, the causes of which remain unclear. Distress in this medical context is largely defined as an indicator of psychopathology, rather than as an interpersonal and social emotion. Drawing on feminist literature which emphasises the importance of reproductive discourses for the subjectivities of women in the current climate of pro-natalist tendencies in Western societies, this thesis presents an alternative framework to the prevailing medical model.
It explores the distress that young women report feeling as a result of their breast cancer diagnosis, and their experiences of breast cancer, infertility, and their female
subjectivities. It moves away from the medical model's emphasis on quantification to focus on women's experiences from their viewpoint. A critical realist framework is
employed to emphasise the constructed nature of 'experience', but also to acknowledge that this construction is shaped by material circumstances. A feminist materialist discourse analysis was conducted on 14 in-depth interviews with young women who had become infertile after breast cancer treatment. Chapters 2 and 3 provide a critical discussion of extant literature in the area, and chapter 4 provides the theoretical research
context. The first four analysis chapters (chapters 5-8) discuss the dominant construction of infertility as a 'dysfunction' and 'problem', and chart a 'process' from
initial treatment decision making, via the link between constructions of infertility and constructions of the 'self, to the losses women reported as a consequence of their infertility, and how they resisted and negotiated these dominant constructions. The last analytic chapter (chapter 9) presents alternative understandings to the dominant notion of the end of a woman's periods as 'infertility' or as a 'problem'. Recommendations are made not only for the improvement of medical breast cancer procedures, but also in relation to discursive constructions and practices.

KeywordsBreast cancer; Infertility; Women's health issue
Publication dates
PrintOct 2008
Publication process dates
Deposited15 Jan 2014
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