“More than conquerors”: a qualitative analysis of war metaphors for patients with cancer

Monica H. Bodd, Nikki C. Daniels, Hermioni L. Amonoo, Tyler Tate, Kris W. Herring, Thomas W. LeBlanc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Meaning-making is fundamental to the cancer experience and communication within cancer care is saturated with metaphors. The objective of this study was to better understand the impact and function of war metaphors among patients with cancer. Methods: Patients at the Duke Cancer Center were purposively sampled for inclusion based on type and stage of their cancer. Each patient underwent a semi-structured interview to explore their use of metaphors in their lived experience with cancer. Qualitative interviews broadly explored two key areas of interest: (1) frequency and use of metaphors to describe cancer diagnosis, treatment, or survivorship; (2) function and impact of the war metaphor on the patient experience of cancer. Results: Fifteen participants with either breast, lung, or colorectal cancer were interviewed. Most patients used metaphor themes of journey, war, and mystery to describe their cancer. All patients with non-metastatic disease used war metaphors and described how these metaphors facilitated meaning-making by promoting positivity and situating cancer within a larger life story. The few patients who did not use war metaphors had metastatic disease, and they explained that war metaphors were unhelpful due to feeling a lack of control over their metastatic disease and outcomes. Conclusion: The war metaphor should remain an integral part of cancer care. Disregarding war metaphors robs patients of an important framework for meaning-making—one that may promote strength, continuity, and resilience in navigating cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number87
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Communication
  • Metaphor
  • Neoplasms
  • Survivorship
  • War metaphor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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