Changes in weight and body-shape are well known side effects among women treated for breast cancer. Caring for these women requires knowledge of how they perceive these bodily changes. However, knowledge on weight changes and how such changes influence the women's perception of their bodies and selves is limited.
To describe the essential meaning of the phenomenon of changes in weight and body-shape in women treated for breast cancer and how these changes influence the women's perception of body and self.
The study design is guided by existential phenomenology as a unifying framework and descriptive life-world research as the methodological approach. Data consisted of 12 individual interviews.
The study was conducted at a department of oncology at a Danish university hospital in 2014.
Women with changes in weight and body-shape were invited to participate in the study for purposeful selection. Inclusion procedure took place when the women attended the outpatient clinic at one year follow-up.
The essential meaning "The ambiguous transforming body--between a luxury problem and fear of recurrence"' was formed by three interrelated constituents: (1) the body--a demanding stranger; (2) fighting to be the master in one's own life, and (3) accepting the bodily changes.
Weight changes may induce a feeling of being in transition between a former well-known body and a current strange demanding body. Interpreting the bodily changes in the light of being alive, the weight changes appeared as a luxury problem. However, knowing that excess fat can cause breast cancer, the women are caught in a dilemma because the medication is supposed to contribute to long-term survival and at the same time is a possible contributor to weight gain. Being alive but unable to avoid bodily changes, the changes influenced the women's self-perception as autonomous agents and provoked self-blame, shame and feelings of ungratefulness. Thus, relieving the burden of changes in weight and body shape is not only a question of appearance, but encompasses the desire for life and anxiety of death.