A challenge has emerged to Bury's (1982) conceptualization of chronic illness as biographical disruption. The idea that certain life circumstances — notably older age or the presence of significant health and social problems — render the experience of chronic illness biographically `continuous' or `reinforcing' has gained currency in the social study of chronic illness.
This article draws from a qualitative study with women diagnosed with cancer in their 70s or 80s. Respondents' narratives suggest that a long life, especially a life characterized by struggle, does provide a context for the assessment of cancer as non-disruptive. However, the study offers evidence that a long life characterized by sufficiency may also be associated with an assessment of cancer as non-disruptive, and that older age and hardship sometimes render chronic illness especially problematic.
Centrally, the article examines respondents' oft-cited commitment to avoid `dwelling' on illness, highlighting how broad cultural and moral discourses, patterns of social interaction and structures of power combine to foreclose older women's accounts of disruption.