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Revisiting biographical disruption : exploring individual embodied illness experience in people with terminal cancer.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
  • Joanne Reeve
  • Mari Lloyd-Williams
  • Sheila Payne
  • Christopher Dowrick
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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>03/2010
<mark>Journal</mark>Health
Issue number2
Volume14
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)178-195
StatePublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Biographical accounts of illness offer useful insights into the social and adaptive processes of living with chronic illness. Yet there are concerns that the underlying theoretical assumptions of a reflexive self seeking to maintain meaning may not reflect the lived experience of individuals. A narrative emphasis may neglect the importance of emotional/felt experiences; while an analytical focus on disruptive processes may not adequately reflect the totality of actual events. In this study, we explored how well biographical theory supports understanding of individual lived experience. Narratives from 19 individuals identified from General Practice lists with a terminal diagnosis of cancer were analysed using the holistic-form approach described by Lieblich. Participants described an ongoing process of living their life, ‘managing’ disruptive events and maintaining an overall sense of well-being (narrative form = biographical flow). For a minority, continuity was lost when people’s capacity to continue living their everyday lives was overwhelmed (narrative form = fracture). The identified emphasis was on individual creative capacity in the face of terminal illness, highlighting the importance of embodied experience in understanding outcome and need. Maintaining continuity was draining: exhaustion precipitated fracture and thus need for external help to restore continuity. By focusing on feelings associated with overall narrative form, rather than individual disruptive events, we highlight the context in which disruptive events are experienced, and individual perceptions of their relative importance. We conclude that combining narrative and emotion offers new insights into the value of understanding of biographical accounts of illness in the context of individual creative capacity. We discuss the possibilities for new approaches to clinical assessment and management of need.