Blood sample at hospital

Metaphors can put blame on the patient

To be strong and keep fighting. To not lose the battle. There are many metaphors that describe what it is like to be struck by and live with cancer. Charlotte Hommerberg is a language researcher who investigates metaphors describing cancer and the psychological meaning of these for people who have been struck by the disease.

In her research, Charlotte Hommerberg, senior lecturer in linguistics, aims to increase the knowledge about the situation of cancer patients and those nearest to them. She investigates the language that is linked to the disease cancer; the metaphors that are used by both those nearest and by the cancer patients themselves within the palliative care.
"Many choose to write about and share their experiences. At the moment, my colleagues and I are analysing 36 different blogs written by cancer patients and those nearest to them, in order to map out the metaphors that are being used", says Hommerberg.

The most frequently used metaphors describe a battle or a war going on in the body. There are also medical terms that are apparent metaphors, like, for instance, describing a type of cancer or a type of treatment as being 'aggressive'. However, these metaphors are not entirely unproblematic, according to Hommerberg.
"It can impose guilt upon and place a lot of responsibility on the patients themselves if they get well or not. This can be problematic in cases where the cancer is incurable. One way of handling this fight scenario that we have recognised in the blogs, is to separate the body from the mind, that the body may give up but the mind does not", explains Hommerberg.

The aim of the research is to establish a general understanding of and knowledge about metaphors used in care in order to facilitate the communication between nursing staff and cancer patients.
"If nursing staff becomes aware that a cancer patient is struggling with the battle metaphors, it is good to know what this can mean and how to be supportive", Hommerberg continues.

Metaphors in palliative cancer treatment is a multidisciplinary research project that works to promote the conditions for good dialogue within care in the final stages of life. The project group is composed of six researchers from three different universities: Linnaeus University, Lund University and Lancaster University. The group gathers expertise form two different fields that are relevant to the project: linguistics and health and caring sciences.

Read more about the project metaphors in palliative cancer care

Contact information

Charlotte Hommerberg, +4670-215 19 81
Tove Nordén, communications officer, +4670-367 14 53