‘Searching for the new normal’: Exploring the role of language and metaphor in becoming a cancer survivor


Session type:


Lynda Appleton1
1Clatterbridge Cancer Centre


The language of cancer is known to influence the personal and social adjustment of the patient following the completion of a course of treatment. Language can aid understanding but can also give rise to false hopes and misunderstanding. This qualitative study aimed to investigate the impact of words and metaphors on the identity of a person living with cancer.

The study employed a focus group design, in which eighteen people, recruited through regional networks and support groups, participated. Data were analysed thematically and organised into descriptive categories concerned with the interpretation of common words and phrases in the cancer lexicon.

Themes identified were grounded in personal, relational and social identity: ‘managing identity and emotions’, ‘relationships’ and ‘public perceptions’, demonstrating positive and negative consequences for adjustment and subtle, but important differences in the way healthcare professionals and lay people use the language and metaphors of cancer.

The language health professionals’ use plays an important part in shaping peoples’ cancer experience and suggests a need for professionals to elaborate their broad understanding of communication skills and move toward a common language based on mutual understanding and meaningful partnership with the patient.