Mother-Daughter Communication about Breast Cancer


Have you or a family member been diagnosed with breast cancer? Have you ever struggled to communicate about breast cancer to your family members? Do you wish there was a guide to help you communicate effectively?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Coping Together, Side by Side: Enriching Mother-Daughter Communication Across the Breast Cancer Journey may just be the book for you.

In her dynamic new book, Dr. Carla L. Fisher discusses how breast cancer is inherently a journey between mothers and daughters.

Specifically, Dr. Fisher shows the ways in which the bond between mother and daughter is a coping mechanism for dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis and ultimately how the communication between a mother and daughter influences each individual’s health, well-being, and overall healthcare.

This week I had the pleasure of corresponding with Dr. Fisher about her book. During our conversation, she explained that this book portrays breast cancer as not simply a woman’s experience but rather a mother-daughter one — a unique distinction from previous research on breast cancer.

The tapestry of stories presented herein invite families, clinicians, therapists, and researchers into the difficulty and beauty mothers and daughters encounter as they struggle to support one another at various points in the life span.

Additionally, Dr. Fisher discussed the book’s different audiences and what she hopes each audience learns from these stories of mothers and daughters coping with breast cancer. First, she hopes the book helps healthcare practitioners who work with cancer patients and their family members.

I hope my research expands health practitioners’ perspectives of patients by bringing their voice to the forefront of the illness experience, thereby demonstrating the need for family members to be more integrated into oncology care.

Second, Dr. Fisher hopes the book helps researchers create educational interventions and tools to assist cancer patients and their families cope with a breast cancer diagnosis throughout the different stages of life.

My hope is that these mother-daughter stories provide rich knowledge for intervention-making, particularly resources that are sensitive to where women are in the life course.

Yet ultimately, Dr. Fisher hopes this book provides families with key information to face breast cancer — together.

Most important, I hope that mothers and daughters can find themselves in the stories and, in doing so, better understand one another as they learn to communicate and connect while taking on breast cancer together.

This past year I had the opportunity to review Dr. Fisher’s book for Health Communication (click on the journal title for my article). From a young age, I learned cancer is a family affair. Not only does a breast cancer diagnosis change the life of a patient, but it also impacts the patient’s family members — especially the mother-daughter relationship. This was definitely true for my mother and me.

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to be involved — as much as an eight-year-old child could be. I pushed my parents to include me in as much of her diagnosis and treatment process as possible. That was my coping mechanism.

Then when my mother tested positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation, and I decided to undergo the same genetic testing to determine my lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer, our relationship changed again.

“My daughter doesn’t dwell on cancer, but I’ve heard her say, “It’s not if I get cancer, it’s when I get cancer.” She uses this phrase because she says it will help her, IF she gets cancer, to move forward quickly and positively. But, that’s a burden for a breast cancer survivor and mother; one our family lives with.”
~ Deborah Olson-Dean, 18-year old breast cancer survivor

My mother is right. I still feel the effects of those early childhood years. Indeed, one of the main reasons I pursued a PhD and became a professor in health communication is because of my family’s breast cancer experience.

Although my mother and I learned how to cope with cancer while maintaining a close relationship, having the book Coping Together, Side by Side as a resource those many years ago would have significantly helped our mother-daughter cancer journey. Learning and understanding healthy and unhealthy communication behaviors mothers and daughters enact when coping with breast cancer would have helped us.

In sum, I am thankful there is more familial, social, and emotional communication research now about dealing with cancer. And I hope that Dr. Fisher’s Coping Together, Side by Side book and my book review might help others navigate the difficult cancer journey.

Do you want to learn more?

If you are interested in learning more about my book review, here is the full reference: Dean, M. (Online, October 2015). Book review of “Coping Together, Side by Side: Enriching Mother-Daughter Communication across the Breast Cancer Journey.” Health Communication. doi:10.1080/10410236.2014.982844.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about Dr. Carla Fisher’s Breast Cancer Research Program on Mother-Daughter Communication, visit her website:

How can you leave feedback for me?

You can respond to this blog post, or you can also email me at my university email address: You can also follow me on Twitter at @marleahdeank and ResearchGate.