A narrative study of the online personal narratives of men with breast cancer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Background: There are 350-400 men diagnosed with breast cancer per year in the UK. These men experience suboptimal health outcomes, social stigma, and contested masculinity. Although men with illness are not observed to use support, men with breast cancer are sharing their experiences through online narratives. There has been limited research in men’s experiences with breast cancer. Investigating their online narratives may provide a unique understanding of their experiences.

Aims: The aim of this PhD was to explore the narratives of men with breast cancer to investigate men’s breast cancer experiences. The specific aims were to a.) reveal men’s perceptions of breast cancer, b.) interrogate how men cope with various adverse events, c.) examine how men share their experiences through storytelling, and d.) understand why they share their stories online.

Methods: I conducted a narrative analysis on 70 autobiographical stories extracted from four openly accessible men’s breast cancer advocacy websites. Informed by a narrative approach, each story was analysed for its topics and narrative structure.

Findings: From the beginning to end, storytelling highlights how the narrators perceive breast cancer as a feminised illness contesting their masculinities. Reacting to this sensitivity, the narrators foreground their masculine identities via stoicism and other stereotypically manly attributes. The results also show that men cope with physical and emotional turmoil by reaffirming their abilities to deal with hardship. The analysis reveals that the narrators share their experiences through temporal structuring. The storytelling begins with symptom-sensing, followed by the climax of breast cancer diagnosis, and the main event of treatment and its side effects. The storytelling ends with the narrators providing support to a community of men. The findings indicate that men produced the narratives to document the tangible and emotional support they received. By sharing their experience, men also offer support to their readers and other men, who do not conventionally seek support elsewhere. The narrators achieve the support functionality and the storied recap of their breast cancer experiences by activating women as social actors and positioning themselves within self-empowering identities.

Discussion: The results have implications in the development of healthcare professional training and public health campaign activities. Addressing the disparity in men’s breast cancer outcomes, especially because men suffer from high breast cancer mortality rates due to lack of awareness, is an important goal. Efforts to spread awareness and support men may find the qualitative context provided by this study useful in helping achieve that goal.
Date of Award1 Apr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorShuangyu Li (Supervisor) & Gabriella Rundblad (Supervisor)

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