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Support Care Cancer. 2010 Feb;18(2):205-15. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0646-y. Epub 2009 May 12.

Emotion work: disclosing cancer.

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  • 1Cancer Disparities Research Group, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway, EP 103, San Francisco, CA 94132, USA.



Breast cancer remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality for all women in the US. Current research has focused on the psychological relationship and not the sociological relationship between emotions and the experience of breast cancer survivors. This paper focuses on the emotion work involved in self-disclosing a breast cancer diagnosis in a racially or ethnically diverse population.


The participants (n = 176) selected for this study were African American, Asian American, Latina, and Caucasian women who had been diagnosed with stages 0, I, or II breast cancer within the past 4 years. They completed an in-depth qualitative interview on self-disclosure and social support.


The results indicate self-disclosing was done at a time when important decisions about treatment needed to be made. Different strategies for disclosure were used, all of which entailed emotion work. Respondents talked about the various elements of emotion work in the disclosure process including: managing others' worry, protecting and soothing others, and educating and instructing others. For many respondents, disclosure without calculating emotional management meant opening up to others which meant support and an increase in emotional resources.


The findings in this paper have implications for women with breast cancer and demonstrate the need for women to be involved in honest disclosure and less emotional management of others' feelings. There is also a need for education about the nature of the cancer experience among people who are not well educated about the treatment and consequences of cancer. This need may be even stronger among racial and ethnic minorities.

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