Fighting Battles And The Language Of Cancer
Media portrayals of cancer as “a battle to be fought”, and its focus on ‘brave fighters’ beating the odds, can lead to feelings of guilt and failure in people with a terminal diagnosis, according to research conducted by Elena Semino, Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art from the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science based at Lancaster University, UK.
“The message that people get from the media and from charity campaigns is that they have to ‘fight’ and ‘beat’ their cancer. Although well meaning, the effect of using war metaphors like this can be damaging to some people. If people are diagnosed with terminal cancer, then they are spoken of as ‘losing their battle’. Many patients are unhappy with their illness being discussed in this way. Blame is being put on the patient, and there’s almost a sense that, if you are dying, you must have given up and not have fought hard enough.
For some patients, some of the time, the idea of being engaged in a fight is motivating. Some people say with pride that “I’m such a fighter”, and they find a sense of meaning and purpose and identity in that. The study showed that we are all different, and different metaphors work for different people, and at different times.
As metaphors are a tool for making sense of our experiences, when you are vulnerable and dying you should have as many tools at your disposal as possible, so that you can choose the one that suits you best at that time.