An Unanticipated Source of Hope: Stigma and Cervical Cancer in Brazil


In this article, I argue that although cervical cancer is an often stigmatized condition in Brazil, women with cervical cancer in Recife, Brazil, did not simply endure the stigma, they also perpetuated it. I draw on narrative theory and 18 months of ethnographic research in Recife to argue that rather than resisting the stigma associated with their disease, women in Recife used stigma to construct illness narratives that affirmed that they were still held to the same norms and values as the nonill. In turn, those narratives, and the healing narratives constructed along with them, provided women with hope for a future free from cervical cancer and free from the “imperfections” associated with that disease. Thus, women with cervical cancer used stigmatizing narratives both as links back to the “normal” world they inhabited before they became ill, and as bridges forward to the future they hoped to attain.

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