Cancer and Facial Disfigurement: Reducing Survivors' Stigma in Social Interaction

Alessandro Bonanno

Bita Esmaeli

social support, survivors
CJON 2012, 16(2), 153-159. DOI: 10.1188/12.CJON.153-159

Patients with orbital and periorbital cancer expect to be cured or survive for several years after their malignancy is detected and surgically removed. However, despite advancements in reconstructive surgery, survivors often remain facially disfigured and spend significant portions of their lives dealing with stigma, a mark of social disgrace. Although research remains limited, this article describes a qualitative study of social interaction leading to stigma in individuals with facial disfigurement caused by cancer surgery, as well as the experiences of their family members. In particular, the current study focused on interaction between patients and strangers and acquaintances (secondary groups). In-depth interviews with patients and their family members were conducted and analyzed using Grounded Theory. Three primary patterns of interaction were identified: intrusion, sympathy, and benign neglect. Those patterns refer to conditions that are decreasingly favorable to the creation of stigma, where intrusion and sympathy foster stigma but benign neglect does not. Through that knowledge, oncology nurses will be able to better inform patients and family members on the conditions leading to stigma.

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