Working after breast cancer treatment: Lessons from musicians

Sarah Schmalenberger, Charles E. Gessert, Jean E. Giebenhain, Lisa D. Starr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: The Life and Livelihood Study was created to examine the impact of breast cancer treatment on musicians. The current report summarizes findings from the second (interview) phase of this study. METHODS: Female musicians who had been treated for breast cancer 1 to 5 years earlier were recruited to participate in the first (survey) phase of the study. Subjects who completed the survey were invited to participate in the second (interview) phase. After obtaining informed consent, 38 subjects were interviewed by telephone, using an interview guide covering eight broad areas of the subjects' breast cancer experience. Transcripts of the interviews were read, coded and analyzed by the four investigators, using qualitative analysis methods. RESULTS: Four broad themes emerged from the data: 1) the impact of the adverse effects of breast cancer treatment on musicians; 2) the need of these musicians to be understood as individuals and as professionals; 3) survivors' efforts to regain a sense of control over their lives and work; and 4) the subjects' integration of their cancer experience into their work and their world views. CONCLUSIONS: For this group of musicians many of the common adverse effects of cancer treatment were potentially devastating. Patients' core identities as musicians ("it's who I am") were threatened, as were their livelihoods. Subjects drew upon their creativity and resourcefulness to integrate their breast cancer experiences into their lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-180
Number of pages6
JournalMedical Problems of Performing Artists
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


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