Breast cancer rates in South Korea have been rising rapidly in recent years. Public health experts point to changing lifestyle factors as a cause of this increase, and popular South Korean understanding blames women for adopting foreign behaviors that put them at risk for developing cancer. Survivors, however, drew on an alternative explanatory framework, placing stress at the center of their understanding of their own cancer diagnoses. This interpretation has motivated the survivors I interviewed to make significant changes in their own habits and social relationships in the pursuit of a less-stressful life. Many also now dedicate numerous volunteer hours to cancer prevention education, but although these survivors teach breast self-exam techniques and advise women to make minor behavioral adjustments, they do not share the implicit social critique embedded in their rejection of women's normal responsibilities as potentially toxic. The survivors' critical perspective is constrained by the dominant framing of both breast cancer and stress as caused by individual behaviors rather than as social effects.


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