Making sense of breast cancer: A narrative study

  • Emily Cudworth

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background and objectives: Despite an abundance of research in the field of psycho-oncology, there is little that has come from the discipline of counselling psychology placing importance on social justice-oriented work of 'giving voice' (by providing a space for storytelling) and 'consciousness raising'. This study explores the experience of breast cancer by generating and analysing individual stories of women with breast cancer. The wider objective of this research is to enhance psychological support offered to women with breast cancer through embracing the process of meaning-making. Method and analysis: Adopting a narrative framework, an unstructured narrative encounter took place with four women at varying stages of breast cancer. The transcribed oral stories told by each woman were then restoried into a prose account. The final restoried version was then analysed using a narrative analysis. This approach allowed me to critically investigate and interpret the construction of meaning within each story, using language to bring light to unique aspects of the experience of breast cancer. Analysis: By examining the narratives of four women, the diversity of experience was made apparent. The transformations that took place were varied and non-linear, with the stories oscillating between different 'narrative types' (Frank, 1995). Analysis focused on how metaphor was used to express contradictory meanings and concepts that might otherwise be difficult to express. In conjunction with the analysis, I reflexively analysed my own theoretical and philosophical standpoint, making transparent the context in which I carried out the research. Conclusion: The insights gained from this research have the potential to extend our understanding of what counselling psychology could offer the field of psycho-oncology. The stories highlight the importance for practitioners to encourage encountering of suffering, and offer a space in which existential questions that have no answer can be explored. There needs to be sensitivity to the complex meanings that are made when forming a coherent story, and adjusting to the appearance of breast cancer.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRichard Fay (Supervisor) & Erica Burman (Supervisor)


  • narrative,
  • breast cancer
  • counselling psychology

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