Valid/Invalid: Women’s Cancer Narratives and the Phenomenology of Bodily Alteration

Jane E. Schultz, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1 (Fall 2013/Spring 2014), 71-87

This article explores the phenomenology of involuntary bodily alteration as breast and ovarian cancer patients have depicted it in first-person narratives written from 1980 to 2012. A study of postoperative reactions to mastectomy, lumpectomy, and oophorectomy in autopathographies by Christina Middlebrook, Catherine Lord, and Susan Gubar reveals a gradual lessening of the stigma associated with cancer as well as greater public acceptance of altered female body images. The evidence of these changes is situated in language that the pathographers use to characterize themselves physically—characterizations that register from the poles of profound alienation from the body to pleasure in reabsorbing the altered body image. I conclude that the erasure of personal stigma and the dread on which it feeds must occur before a more collective enterprise, aimed at discovering the causes of breast cancer rather than treating its symptoms, gains momentum.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]