Negotiating Cultural Consensus in a Breast Cancer Self-Help Group


This article describes a shared model of the breast cancer experience negotiated by the members of a spontaneously organized breast cancer self-help group in eastern North Carolina. In the course of sharing their personal experience narratives with one another, these women worked to negotiate points of agreement among the varying sources of knowledge and oftentimes conflicting belief systems they held about breast cancer. The synthetic model they created rejected many of the assumptions underlying the dominant biomedical view of cancer “survivorship,” particularly its emphasis on the autonomous individual as decision maker and its attendant male-gendered sports and military imagery—assumptions that often implicitly structured the agendas and topics discussed in the formal, medically sanctioned support groups these women found unappealing. The implications for theories about the construction of shared cultural models and for continuing efforts to design support groups to meet the needs of a diverse patient population are explored.

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