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Attitudes of Gratitude: An Analysis of 30 Cancer Narratives Published by Leading U.S. Cancer Care Centers

Authors: Maria L. McLeod


This study examines the ways in which cancer patient narratives are portrayed and framed on the websites of three leading U.S. cancer care centers – The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Thirty patient stories, 10 from each cancer center website blog, were analyzed using qualitative and quantitative textual analysis of unstructured data, documenting common themes and other elements of story structure and content. Patient narratives were coded using grounded theory as the basis for conducting emergent qualitative research. As part of a systematic, inductive approach to collecting and analyzing data, recurrent and unique themes were examined and compared in terms of positive and negative framing, patient agency, and institutional praise. All three of these cancer care centers are teaching hospitals, with university affiliations, that emphasize an evidence-based scientific approach to treatment that utilizes the latest research and cutting-edge techniques and technology. The featured cancer stories suggest positive outcomes based on anecdotal narratives as opposed to the science-based treatment models employed by the cancer centers. An analysis of 30 sample stories found skewed representation of the “cancer experience” that emphasizes positive outcomes while minimizing or excluding more negative realities of cancer diagnosis and treatment. The stories also deemphasize patient agency, instead focusing on deference and gratitude toward the cancer care centers, which are cast in the role of savior.  

Keywords: Cancer framing, cancer narratives, survivor stories, patient narratives.

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