The Suspended Self: Liminality in Breast Cancer Narratives and Implications for Counselling

Ifigeneia Koutri, Evrinomy Avdi


In the field of chronic and serious illness, meaning-making with regards to the illness experience has been shown to be a core process for patients. This study focuses on women's narratives of their experiences of living with breast cancer. Within the framework of narrative psychology, illness narratives are considered to provide the main means through which patients make sense of their illness experience and construct its place in their life story. In this paper, we present findings from a narrative study that aimed to explore the different meanings that breast cancer holds for Greek women. In the broader study, four basic narrative types about breast cancer emerged from the analysis. In this paper, we focus on one of these narrative types, in which illness is constructed as an entrance into a state of liminality and where the women's sense of self seems to be “suspended”. The core features of this narrative type are described and arguments are developed regarding its usefulness. We argue that this is a narrative type that deserves further attention, particularly as it seems to reflect a socially non-preferred storyline, which might result in these women's stories being sidestepped or silenced. The implications of this narrative type for healthcare and counselling in cancer care are discussed.


illness narratives, liminality, breast cancer, narrative identity