A-Z of Blogging: L is for Language #AtoZChallenge


26 posts. 26 days. 26 letters of the alphabet, one blog post beginning with each letter.

L is for Language

I’m right in the middle of writing an article for the Patient Empowerment Foundation on the language of cancer – specifically focused on cancer as a battleground.

It seems whenever we hear a story about someone with a serious illness, war metaphors frequently accompany the telling. This is particularly true of the language surrounding cancer in which battles must invariably be valiantly fought, won, or lost.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about patients who are in remission from cancer, having “won their fight” against the disease. Does this imply that patients in remission have somehow done more than those who aren’t in remission?  Or that cancer progression or death from cancer is somehow an indication of failure – of not having had the ability to fight and defeat the enemy?

In The Personal is Rhetorical: War, Protest, and Peace in Breast Cancer Narratives, Dr. Kristen Garrison writes that the language of war which dominates breast cancer determines how the patient and others understand the illness.

Women are enlisted in a battle against the self, their bodies made war zones, with cancer as the enemy, medical professionals as infallible heroes, and treatments of search-and-destroy by any means possible.

This is not to say that I don’t recognize that for some people embracing a fighting spirit is a way that helps them feel more in control.  I’m not criticizing individuals who draw strength from calling themselves fighters.  Everyone is entitled to use whatever language they want to describe their own experiences. However, in the words of Dr Garrison “while this metaphor may serve to motivate some women, we should not accept it uncritically as the only and right way to make sense of this disease; furthermore, we should recognize how the war metaphor delimits the ways women can talk about breast cancer, potentially silencing women for whom a combat mode is inappropriate or ineffective.”

Over to you

My Post Copy 11 (11)

How do you feel about metaphors like “fighting” and “battling” cancer? Do these metaphors resonate with you? Or do you dislike them?

Here’s a selection of tweets in answer to this question.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts to this topic in the comments below.

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But then along came Beth and Dr Jo

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