Illness Experiences, Collective Decisions, and the Therapeutic Encounter in Indian Oncology

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Abstract

Social science scholarship on cancer has been almost exclusively focused on Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, despite a significant epidemiological transition taking place in many non-OECD contexts, with cancer emerging as a prominent, and strongly feared, illness experience. With cancer gaining an increasingly high profile in India, there is an urgent need to explore how experiences of cancer may be socially and culturally embedded, and in turn, how localized practices may shape the therapeutic encounter. Here, drawing on interviews with 40 people living with cancer in Hyderabad, India, we focus on some specific components of their therapeutic journeys, including diagnostic and prognostic disclosure, collective versus individual decision making, the dynamics of medical authority, and the reception of cancer within their social milieu. These participants’ accounts provide insight into a range of cultural sensibilities around illness and care, and reinforce the importance of understanding the cultural inflections of communication, decisions, and illness experiences.

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