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Sociol Health Illn. 2008 May;30(4):616-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01076.x. Epub 2008 Feb 20.

Holistic sickening: breast cancer and the discursive worlds of complementary and alternative practitioners.

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Department of Sociology, Suffolk University, Boston, USA.


This paper introduces the concept of holistic sickening to the sociological literature on illness narratives. Drawing on interviews with 46 Boston-area complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners who treat breast cancer patients, we found that the CAM practitioners redefine their patients' breast cancer diagnoses in ways that expand and transform their illness, sometimes into a lifetime journey. The practitioners, for the most part, espouse broad and complex etiological frameworks that help give meaning to the woman's cancer. They tend to speak about breast cancer as a symptom of problems that exceed the cancer itself, at times suggesting that women are responsible, to some extent, for their own breast cancer. The practitioners articulate holistic philosophies that describe healing as open-ended with correspondingly expansive definitions of what it means to be healed, rarely articulating clear ways of conceptualising or measuring the efficacy of their own treatments. Their use of expansive and detailed etiological frameworks alongside vague and unelaborated efficacy frameworks make up the holistic sickening phenomenon described in this paper.

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