Disruption, discontinuity and a licence to live: Responding to cancer diagnoses

Sociol Health Illn. 2024 May 30. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.13797. Online ahead of print.


Although a diagnosis of a life-limiting cancer is likely to evoke emotions, such as fear, panic and anxiety, for some people it can also provide an opportunity to live life differently. This article is based on research undertaken in Aotearoa New Zealand on the topic of exceptional cancer trajectories. Eighty-one participants who had been identified as living with a cancer diagnosis longer than clinically expected were interviewed, along with 25 people identified by some of the participants as supporters in their journey. For some participants the diagnosis provided the opportunity to rethink their lives, to undertake lifestyle and consumption changes, to be culturally adventurous, to take up new skills, to quit work and to change relationships with others. The concepts of biographical disruption and posttraumatic growth are considered in relation to these accounts, and it is argued that the event of a cancer diagnosis can give license for people to breach social norms.

Keywords: biographical disruption; breaching norms; cancer survivorship; posttraumatic growth.

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