Communication & Medicine, Vol 6, No 2 (2009)

Marked bodies and selves: A literary-semiotic perspective on breast cancer and identity

Nina Henriksen, Helle Ploug Hansen
Issued Date: 20 Jan 2010


A diagnosis of breast cancer is not just life-threatening but often also disfiguring. Breast cancer research has pointedly focused on the connection between bodily loss and loss of self. We will examine the narratives of two Danish women who have been treated for breast cancer and are dealing with the consequences of their treatment. Drawing upon theories of phenomenology and literary-semiotics we demonstrate how the women are negotiating their identities. In narratives of breast cancer bodily practices play a prominent role in helping or hindering the re-construction of identity. We will focus on breast reconstruction as a bodily practice and seek to understand how and why breast cancer survivors either accept or reject the possibility of reconstructing their identity through breast reconstruction. We suggest that the literary semiotic concept of marking can lead to a broader understanding of the connection between illness, body and identity. Breast reconstruction and the refusal of breast reconstruction can be viewed as part of a semiotic monitoring and marking of the body that can take place in the aftermath of treatment for breast cancer.

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DOI: 10.1558/cam.v6i2.143


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