a great many qualitative descriptions of the experience of having breast cancer
exist, they overwhelmingly represent
experiences of women in Western cultures and are based on assumptions
that stem from Western individualism. This study explores and describes
cultural models shared by a group of non-Western women, South Koreans, in
reference to female breasts and breast cancer. The hermeneutic
phenomenology-grounded qualitative study was conducted with 40 Korean women, between
23 and 81 years of age, half of whom were breast cancer survivors. The
analysis elicited two cultural models, both characterized in terms of physical
relationships to others (as opposed to the woman’s individual or independent view of her body): a breast-feeding
mother to a child and an attractive wife to a husband. Female breasts
are interpreted as a medium that connects women to roles as mothers and wives.
Breast cancer can lead women to detach from their previous relational and
role-oriented identities. Cultural traditions, cultural concepts, and culture-related
health beliefs in Korea are interwoven deeply in the women’s stories about
breasts, as a gendered organ, and its disease. The findings suggest that
understanding indigenous cultural models should precede any supportive
breast cancer care for women from non-Western cultural backgrounds.
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