Wearing my heart on my chest: dating, new relationships, and the reconfiguration of self-esteem after breast cancer

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Objective:This study investigated women's experiences of establishing an intimate relationship with a new partner after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.Methods:Fifteen breast cancer survivors, who were either actively dating or in a new intimate relationship that began post-diagnosis, participated in semi-structured interviews. Interview transcripts were analyzed using the grounded theory method.Results:The analysis yielded Wearing My Heart on My Chest as the core category with three underlying categories: (1) Losing and Regaining Self and Bodily Esteem; (2) Taking the Leap: Dating and the Obligation to Disclose; and (3) Reclaiming of Self through the New Relationship. The categories refer to the experience of profound vulnerability invoked by the history of breast cancer and the act of verbally and physically revealing this past to a new intimate partner. Disclosure entailed a series of successive ‘tests’ of the new partner for his ability to accept the physical and psychological ramifications of breast cancer, with the resulting relationship becoming a vehicle through which women regained self-esteem.Conclusions:The process of dating and starting a new intimate relationship had the potential to restore women's self and bodily esteem previously diminished by breast cancer. The reconfiguration of self-esteem following breast cancer is thus experienced as an ongoing process that begins with diagnosis and continues well into the new relationship. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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