Unveiling the Maelstrom of the Early Breast Cancer Trajectory

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Length and complexity of illness and treatment in early breast cancer mean that the acute phase may extend over months. Employing concepts of “trajectory” and “work” from chronic illness, we explored the temporality of the illness experience for women as it unfolded from diagnosis through acute treatment. We performed multiple, qualitative interviews with 14 women at critical points in their first year postdiagnosis. We differentiated between subphases of the acute breast cancer trajectory: becoming a person with breast cancer: a turning point; first steps in treatment: struggling to protect self-concept; being and feeling ill: “cure” as suffering; and conditional “recovering”: an uncertain future. Each subphase represented the distinctive context in which illness management took place with consequences for the work women and those close to them engaged in, to manage the practical, emotional, relational, and existential demands of an illness that intruded every aspect of their lives.

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