On my rounds in the oncology unit these last few weeks, I have noticed a trend that seems new to me. The patients weren't focused on their recent surgery, the chemotherapy they were beginning, or the unknown pathology of their lymph node status. They were instead all talking about their children.
Given the population in the room, the majority had grown children with lives of their own. The patients were talking about what their kids were doing, where they were living, how they were about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Always the mom: thinking of others first.
While the patients were of all ages and of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, I did not notice any significant difference in their discussions about their children. It was all "mom talk" in the room.
A woman's post-diagnosis identity invariably integrates her pre-diagnosis identity with that of "breast cancer patient" and "survivor."1 Perhaps that identity brings motherhood into a new framework. A breast cancer diagnosis precipitates complex changes in a woman's identity, even as a mother.
Women experiencing breast cancer are confronted with a life-threatening disease and find themselves in a situation that changes and restricts their lives psychologically, physically, and socially. Women living with breast cancer have no choice but to go through this.
By motivating themselves, are they regaining and marshaling their vital energy by suppressing their own suffering with replaced concern for their children? I could not help but notice that by continuing the mothering role and experiencing survivorship, it reflects a woman's experiences of identity in the context of living with breast cancer2.
I believe more research is needed to determine precisely which psychosocial variables are effective in promoting greater health for women with breast cancer and their families, taking into consideration the dynamic of the relationship between women with breast cancer and their children as well as the influence of their mutual support.
Has anyone noticed similar findings? How do you see or interpret this dynamic?
Fisher C., O'Connor M. "Motherhood" in the context of living with breast cancer. Cancer Nurs. 2012 Mar-Apr; 35(2):157-63.
Schmid-Buchi S., DassenT., and Halfens RJ. Experiencing the disease of breast cancer and getting life under control again. Pflege. 2005 Dec; 18(6):345-52.
Berlin KL, Andreotti C, Yull F, Grau AM, Compas BE. Mother-daughter communication about breast cancer risk: interpersonal and biological stress processes. J Behav Med. 2012 May 9.
Wiggs CM. Mothers and daughters: intertwining relationships and the lived experience of breast cancer. Health Care Women Int. 2011 Nov; 32(11):990-1008.