Metastatic cancer and mothering: being a mother in the face of a contracted future

Kirsten Bell, Svetlana Ristovski-Slijepcevic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For the majority of people diagnosed with metastatic cancer, there is little hope of a disease-free future. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at a support group for women with metastatic cancer, we examine the relationship between metastases and mothering. We argue that the experience of raising children while living with a terminal illness crystallizes cultural expectations about mothering based on an essentialist model of parenthood whereby the person best suited to raise children is their biological mother. These expectations create an irresolvable gap between discourse and experience that both increases the suffering of women raising children and generates an internal hierarchy of suffering among women with cancer metastases that hinges on the distinction between those who have dependent children and those who do not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-49
Number of pages21
JournalMedical Anthropology Quarterly
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms
  • Terminally Ill
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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