Cancer is not a battle … or is it?

…. at least, not for me.

Using military metaphors when writing or talking about tackling illnesses goes back at least to the 17thc, if not earlier. A study in 2010 found that patients thought physicians were better communicators when they used metaphors when talking about cancer. Only 22% if the randomly selected conversations used military metaphors – surprisingly (for me at least), most metaphors where agricultural. Dhruv Khullar writes that using military metaphors is highly personal and knowing the patient well helps to determine what to say. Carlos D. Tajer wrote an interesting editorial about metaphors in medicine and delving further, the use of metaphors in communication is more complex than I first thought. They have long lasting effects too, as in his example of Ostler and angina (1910) which has imprinted in cultural memory as – it is men who have heart disease (nevermind that females do equally, or more). Metaphors can lead to damage too, as Trish Greenhalgh in a 2010 BMJ editorial writes.

The people treating me didn’t use military metaphors – in fact, they mostly didn’t use any (the only one I got was radiotherapy = sunburn). Perhaps because I’ve had medical issues before or perhaps because I work in a hospital – who can say?


2 responses to “Cancer is not a battle … or is it?

  1. Well having experienced both I would say cancer is not a battle at least not for the patient. A person with cancer has already been shot on the battlefield and bleeding to death and just hopes someone can save them. Let’s see I’ve had AML leukemia, an allogenic bone marrow transplant with all kinds of complications like total kidney and liver failure, septic shock from a prostate biopsy that got infected and if that wasn’t enough I got prostate cancer. That was an easy one. Just had it removed. Yeah cancer victims already took a hit. Get them to the MASH operation immediately.

    • Wow, you have been through the mill! I’ve had kidney failure (unrelated to the cancer) so I can empathise on that point. I hope you are feeling well now. I wrote this post because I thought that the use of fight etc isn’t helpful at all and is a disservice to people with other conditions that are just as horrible.

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