Sick Metaphors

In her "Winter Talk" radio programme, Sara Danius talked about her cancer, among other things. The year that was planned as a somewhat slow year became anything but. I admire her for not only dealing with her illness but also not letting that stop her from taking on the role as the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, the first woman ever on that post.

She mentioned that she was annoyed with how we talk about cancer in Sweden. We don't talk about other illnesses in the same way and this puts a lot of stress on the people who are already weak. As a cancer patient, you are expected to fight. We don't say that to those who had a heart attack. We never hear that somebody died from losing the battle with ulcers.
Being a professional writer and professor of literature, Danius of course referred to Susan Sonntag's book "Illness as metaphor". Sonntag suggests that we should try to talk about illness without using metaphors, but I wonder how easy that is. However, I really think we should consider how we talk about and with people who are ill. Probably, they don't want to be reminded of their illness at all.

Kate Granger, journalist at The Guardian, is also dissatisfied with the military-oriented cancer metaphors. She ends her article this way:

"Cancer Research UK uses the slogan "One day we will beat cancer". This may sound defeatist but I don't think we ever will. Cells need to divide in all of us to remain alive, to grow and repair our bodies; sometimes this process goes wrong and the result is cancer. We will become better at understanding these processes and how we can target them therapeutically, but I cannot imagine a human society free from cancer, no matter how much money we invest.

As a cancer patient who will die in the relatively near future, I believe rather that instead of reaching for the traditional battle language, [life] is about living as well as possible, coping, acceptance, gentle positivity, setting short-term, achievable goals, and drawing on support from those closest to you."

As of today, she's still alive and tweeting!

No comments: