Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Trisha L. Raque

Second Advisor

Jesse Owen

Third Advisor

Stacy Pinto


Breast cancer, Women partnered with women


Approximately 268,600 new cases of breast cancer in women are diagnosed each year in the United States. Due to improvements in cancer detection and treatment, survivorship is higher than in the past. More than ten percent of new diagnoses are in women 45 years or younger. There are approximately one million sexual minority individuals living with cancer in the US, yet this population is understudied in cancer care. For sexual minority women with breast cancer, sociocultural factors such as lack of affirmative care influences their disease experience. Further, sexual minority women and women partnered with women may be subject to minority stress experiences, such as discrimination and stigma, during daily life and while coping with cancer. This dissertation study sought to qualitatively explore the relational impact of breast cancer on younger women partnered with women. Ten individuals, members of five monogamous women couples, were interviewed for the study. The focus of the study is on women who are 50 years of age or younger, and wherein one partner was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45 or younger. Participants completed a questionnaire measuring mutuality in their relationship and a demographic questionnaire. Interviews explored the following in the context of breast cancer, 1) impact of breast cancer on younger survivors and their women partners with regard to the Relational Cultural Theory constructs of authenticity, mutuality, relationship awareness, connection, and disconnection, 2) barriers and supports to couples’ sense of connection with each other, 3) how minority stress may affect the couple’s relationship dynamic and ability to feel connected and 4) lasting relational changes within the couple after cancer. The qualitative interview data was rigorously analyzed by a research team using the Consensual Qualitative Research method. The domain level findings include the relational processes that contributed to more or less connection, as well as how external influences such as healthcare providers and systems, interpersonal relationships, and organizational support impacted their connection. The findings contribute to the psycho-oncology research literature by presenting an in-depth description of the lived experiences of women partnered with women, who are also younger in age, a population that has not been adequately represented in the literature. Further, it highlights how a variety of influences, both within and outside of women couples, such as sociocultural forces, contributed to their sense of connection and well-being.

Publication Statement

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Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Kaitlin V. Ross

File size

257 pgs

File format