After reading this article about the use of ‘war metaphors’ to describe cancer, it occurred to me that there may be something more to this than meets the eye.

The article resists the idea that words like ‘fight, ‘battle’ and ‘survive’ are the best way to describe a patient’s journey – that it diminishes what women go through. Also that it’s inappropriate to suggest that women who die from breast cancer have somehow ‘lost’ a ‘battle’ that they may have ‘won’ had they fought harder. There is also concern that aggressive language may encourage patients to choose overly aggressive treatments with little benefit, sometimes causing horrible side effects.

But I think there is a further point to be made about the language we use to talk about cancer. The language we use reflects our understanding of what cancer is!

If we understand cancer as an invading force that we have to fight and destroy, then we will use war metaphors. But if we understand cancer as a symptom – a symptom of something else that is wrong with the body, like an immune system deficiency, then we’ll use language like ‘heal’, ‘mend’ and ‘repair’.

The war metaphors reflect how the medical establishment views cancer – as an invading force – and this thinking is passed on to the rest of us, and unfortunately we are all victims! We need to change the way we speak about cancer, and help others to think about cancer differently – think of cancer as a symptom, because that is what it is!

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