Metaphors in palliative cancer care

This project aims to strengthen the scientific foundation for the use of metaphors in Swedish palliative cancer care, thereby contributing to development of praxis in Sweden.

To render the ungraspable graspable

autumn
All photographs on this page: Mikael Wallberg.

In today's Swedish palliative cancer care, there is wide-spread awareness of the importance of good communication for patients as well as for those close to them. This type of communication involves particular challenges because of extensive differences in power and expertise between different groups, on the one hand patients and close ones, and on the other health care professionals.

To render the ungraspable graspable, metaphors are frequently used drawing on their capacity to capture the abstract and unknown in terms of more concrete and familiar experiences. The significance of metaphors is particularly tangible in highly personal or sensitive communicative situations. Metaphors can have a reassuring effect, but can also give rise to feelings like fear, helplessness, isolation and guilt. Death from cancer can be described as for instance "the end of a journey" or as "losing the battle" and thereby completely different worldviews are depicted.

The way we understand metaphor is affected by personal as well as cultural and linguistic factors. Today's increasingly multicultural and multilingual society therefore entails particular challenges for cancer care communication through metaphor, and there is a need for enhanced awareness about which metaphors are universal and therefore more suitable in intercultural communicative events.

This project aims to strengthen the scientific foundation for the use of metaphors in Swedish palliative cancer care, thereby contributing to development of praxis in Sweden.

The research group is composed of six researchers from three different universities, Linnaeus University and Lund University, Sweden, and Lancaster University, UK. The collaborators contribute scientific knowledge from different fields that are relevant for the project: Linguistics and Health and caring sciences. The composition of the research group offers excellent requisites to observe different angles and render the new knowledge accessible for practitioners in Sweden as well as abroad.

The project Metaphors in palliative cancer care is funded by the Kamprad family foundation.

winter

Scientific methods

The project relies on a methodology that has already been tested within the frames of the related research project Metaphors in end-of-life care (MELC) at Lancaster University. Results and analyses are based on interviews with health care professionals as well as patients and their close ones. Other sources of data are internet-based blogs and discussion fora. The collaboration between the Swedish and British researchers makes it possible to investigate variation in the different languages' and cultures' ways of using metaphor to communicate about experiences of emotional or physical pain.

spring

Dissemination of results

The project has implications for patients, close ones and health care professionals who live with or in the shadow of terminal cancer. Through investigation of metaphor use inside as well as outside the immediate care context, the project is designed to enhance professionals' capability to understand, capture and include patients'/close ones' own use of metaphor, thus optimizing the positive potential of metaphor and avoiding situations where metaphor can have troubling effects. The results are implemented in praxis through continuous dialogue, which is facilitated by the interdisciplinary composition of the research group. The knowledge generated by the project is disseminated through the creation of a work material about the importance of metaphor for good communication created for health care professionals, cancer psychotherapists and educational programmes for health care professionals.

Project group

Principal investigator

Dr. Charlotte Hommerberg, Linnaeus University

Charlotte Hommerberg, PhD, Senior lecturer in English linguistics. Her research interests involve discourse analysis, multimodality and educational linguistics, and she has previous experience with corpus techniques through a project targeting wine reviews. She is currently active as co-investigator in the educational research project PROFiLE, which is funded by the Swedish Research Council, and a member of the newly formed Linnaeus University Centre for Intermediality and Multimodality Studies. Through her position as Director of Studies of the English subject at Linnaeus University, she has considerable previous experience with administrative planning, organization and leadership. She has a personal engagement in the project topic through her experience as a breast cancer patient.

Co-investigators

Dr. Anna W. Gustafsson, Lund University, Sweden

Anna W. Gustafsson, PhD, Associate professor in Swedish linguistics. She has previous experience with corpus building and metaphor analysis as a researcher at the Pufendorf Institute and of the study of communication between doctors and immigrant families in child diabetes care at the Vårdal Institute. Since 2007, she has been the scientific leader of an interdisciplinary research seminar, The Discourse Meeting, which attracts researchers from several different subjects, faculties and universities. She has created and heads a three year bachelor programme for language consultants. As the parent of a child that has been treated for leukemia, Anna W. Gustafsson also has a personal engagement in the project topic.

 

Professor Eva Benzein, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Eva Benzein, Professor of Health and caring sciences. She has longstanding experience with research in palliative care in the Swedish context and is currently scientific leader for the Centre for Collaborative Palliative Care. She provides data from interviews that are carried out within the frames of the research theme "To live a dignified life". Her network among health care professionals functions as an important channel for successful research outreach and maximum impact.

Dr. Anna Sandgren, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Anna Sandgren, Phd, Senior lecturer in the Health and caring sciences. She collaborates with Eva Benzein in the Centre for Collaborative Palliative Care and is also involved in the collection of interview data. Her network among health care professionals functions as an important channel for research outreach and impact. Anna Sandgren will also be responsible for coordination of project activities inviting health care professionals.

Professor Elena Semino, Lancaster University, UK

Elena Semino, Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University. Elena Semino has considerable experience in metaphor research and has published extensively in this subfield of linguistics. She is the principal investigator of the MELC project, which is a role model for the PACAM project. She functions expert advisor in method related issues and co-author of publications targeting intercultural comparison of use of metaphors in the Swedish and British palliative care contexts.

Dr. Veronika Koller, Lancaster University, UK

Veronika Koller, PhD, Reader in Discourse Studies, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University. Her fields of expertise involve metaphors in discourse and critical discourse analysis. Veronika Koller was also involved as a co-investigator in the MELC project, and she functions as expert advisor in method related issues and co-author of publications targeting intercultural comparison of use of metaphors in the Swedish and British palliative care context.

Participants

Collaborations

Project updates

MEPAC participated at COMET in Aalborg, Denmark, 4-6 July

COMET draws together international scholars from different disciplines such as medicine, health and caring sciences, psychology and linguistics.
COMET's webpage 

MEPAC participated at RaAM in Berlin, 1-4 July, and was awarded the prize for best poster presentation

The Researching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM) community brings together scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds with an interest in metaphor. MEPAC's poster gave an overview of the project as a whole and presented a selection of examples from our forthcoming publication (in Swedish in Socialmedicinsk tidskrift).
RaAM conference website

Poster RaAM
The poster was awarded best poster prize at the conference Researching and applying metaphor in Berlin 2016.