Comorbid Suffering: Breast Cancer Survivors in South Africa

Edna N. Bosire, Emily Mendenhall, Lesley Jo Weaver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Cycles of chronic illness are unpredictable, especially when multiple conditions are involved, and that instability can transform “normal” everyday life for individuals and their families. This article employs a theory of “comorbid suffering” to interpret how multiple concurrent diagnoses produce webs of remarkable suffering. We collected 50 life stories from breast cancer survivors enrolled in the South Africa Breast Cancer Study. We present three women’s narratives who grapple with comorbid suffering and illness-related work, which arise interpersonally when comorbid illnesses affects social interactions. We found that women strive to create a balance between living with comorbid suffering and continuously performing routine activities amid treatment. Discrimination and isolation were underpinned by women’s fear of being rejected by their families or how their illnesses created social distance between family members and the wider community. This study therefore illustrates how comorbid suffering requires intensive family commitments amid and beyond illness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)917-926
Number of pages10
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • South Africa
  • Soweto
  • breast cancer
  • comorbid suffering
  • interpersonal suffering
  • qualitative


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