Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Stories of Teal: Women's Experiences of Ovarian Cancer

Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Apollos Nwauwa (Other)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Abstract

This dissertation explores the lived experiences of ovarian cancer. I used feminist ethnographic methods of in-depth interviews and focus groups to collect data from 28 ovarian cancer survivors in Northwest Ohio and Southern Michigan. The concepts of social support, uncertainty in illness, and intersectionality are used to understand women’s experiences of the disease and their quality of life post-treatment. My grounded theory analysis shows the ovarian cancer experience as a process involving three phases including (not)making sense, owning the experience, and becoming a survivor. The phases are neither linear nor distinct, and each presents unique challenges to survivors, helping shape how they make meaning and communicate about their experiences. I identify managing uncertainty as the core variable in the ovarian cancer experience; uncertainty is high at diagnosis, plateaus during treatment, heightens again at the end of treatment, and remains in the backgrounds of women’s lives as they navigate treatment aftereffects and/or recurrences. The ovarian cancer experience is influenced by women’s age, religion, socioeconomic status, level of available social support, stage of disease, and treatment protocol. These factors work through and with each other to impact women’s meaning making about the disease. This research helps demystify the ovarian cancer experience and puts human faces on the disease. It also provides a deeper understanding about the factors that influence women’s experiences of ovarian cancer and the communicative strategies they use to determine their experiences.

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