The Cultural Discourses of Breast Cancer Narratives
Mary K. DeShazer

Uncovers the lived experience of breast cancer through autobiographical and photographic narratives


While breast cancer continues to affect the lives of millions, contemporary writers and artists have responded to the ravages of the disease in creative expression. Mary K. DeShazer’s book looks specifically at breast cancer memoirs and photographic narratives, a category she refers to as mammographies, signifying both the imaging technology by which most Western women discover they have this disease and the documentary imperatives that drive their written and visual accounts of it. Mammographies argues that breast cancer narratives of the past ten years differ from their predecessors in their bold address of previously neglected topics such as the link between cancer and environmental carcinogens, the ethics and efficacy of genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomy, and the shifting politics of prosthesis and reconstruction.

Mammographies is distinctive among studies of contemporary illness narratives in its exclusive focus on breast cancer, its analysis of both memoirs and photographic texts, its attention to hybrid and collaborative narratives, and its emphasis on ecological, genetic, transnational, queer, and anti-pink discourses. DeShazer’s methodology—best characterized as literary critical, feminist, and interdisciplinary—includes detailed interpretation of the narrative strategies, thematic contours, and visual imagery of a wide range of contemporary breast cancer memoirs and photographic anthologies. The author explores the ways in which the narratives constitute a distinctive testimonial and memorial tradition, a claim supported by close readings and theoretical analysis that demonstrates how these narratives question hegemonic cultural discourses, empower reader-viewers as empathic witnesses, and provide communal sites for mourning, resisting, and remembering.

“A richly developed, eloquently written, important book that marks a new chapter in the history of the cultural criticism of cancer discourse/experiences and specifically of first-person narratives of breast cancer, both textual and visual. The book’s appeal should be broad, ranging from general readers and anyone who has experienced cancer to scholars and students in feminist studies, literary criticism, art history, mass media, and the biomedical humanities.”
—Martha Stoddard Holmes, University of California, San Marcos

Photo: Venus by Charlee Brodsky, courtesy of the artist

Mary K. DeShazer is Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies, Wake Forest University.

Praise / Awards

  • "DeShazer is a courageous, tenacious writer who dares to map the progress of breast cancer studies for the first time, in all of its flaws and ugliness, and in all of its beauty and eloquence."
    Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
  • "Mary DeShazer applies a semiotic analysis with a feminist perspective to different media – texts, images, blogs, graphic works – achieving two important results. On one hand DeShazer’s work presents some of the most significant narratives (textual and visual) of breast cancer – narratives that aim to extend the range of topics and approaches usually present in discourses about breast cancer. On the other, DeShazer’s detailed analysis offers important elements to understanding both these narratives and the cultural context in which they were produced. The specific analyses presented in the book are constantly compared to previous narratives, anchoring the discussion in the past and allowing the reader to identify continuities and innovations in the way in which cancer is framed in cultural discourse. Mammographies is an important text for readers interested in illness narratives and textual and literary analysis."
  • "Mammographies is an important and groundbreaking work, a marker in our culture as we come to grips with what for many will be a transformational life event."
    --Angela Allyn, Chicago Stage Standard
  • "A definitive work in studies and analysis of breast cancer narratives, and should not be overlooked by any reader wishing to involve themselves in important ongoing discourse about women's health."
    --British Society for Literature and Science

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 258pp.
  • 19 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11882-3

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  • $49.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03635-6

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90098-5

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  • Breast cancer, illness narratives, medical humanities, autobiography, photography, visual culture, feminist theory, cultural studies, literary criticism, gender studies, women and illness, disability studies