1.25.2007

TO is not a cancer

I'm usually not very sensitive to this type of thing, but lately it has become one of my unspoken pet peeves. I'm sick and tired of the cancer analogy/metaphor. So, think a bit before you use it. You just might be offending someone touched very deeply and emotionally by the real thing. And the act of trivializing cancer might just have more serious impact than you think.

I'm a sports fan and I Tivo and watch PTI: Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. I like the show and its mostly rapid-fire format, and I really like Mike Wilbon. I tend to like what he has to say, but if I think about it honestly I mostly like him because he is an unapologetic Chicago-guy, and he is a Northwestern Wildcat to boot. Unfortunately, every time the subject of Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens is raised, which is often, he uses the cancer analogy (metaphor I suppose). He says, "TO is a cancer" or "TO is a cancer in the locker room" or "TO is a cancer to the team/league/etc".

Enough already. I understand the analogy. The bad attitude or whatever spreads and "diseases" the whole team. Fine. Except its sports. No one is really going to die. You might think you are emotionally involved in the success of the Dallas Cowboys. You might actually be emotionally involved and impacted by the success of the Dallas Cowboys. I can assure you however, that you aren't as emotionally involved in the Cowboys as I am in my son, who has cancer. And cancer, real cancer, is probably going to take his life. And every time someone uses the cancer analogy, it belittles and trivializes the real struggle with this terrible class of diseases. When you equate some trivial negative thing with the cancer that is now not-so-slowly taking over Nathan's body, you have belittled our experiences. You have trivialized Nathan's struggle. You have lowered the urgency with which we talk about cancer and the perception of the seriousness of these diseases in the public debate and awareness.

You may think I'm overly emotional about this. I am. How could I not be? I think I'm right though. Not only does using this all too common analogy/metaphor cause people pain, but it is also harmful in terms of how people view and relate to these diseases. I'm guilty of having done it in the past, before Nathan's cancer. I won't be guilty of it again. Will you?

5 comments:

Josh said...

I hadn't thought about it consciously, but I stopped awhile ago using Cancer as a metaphor.

Since 9/11 I've also tried to stop using war as a metaphor. I still use "arms race" because its just such a damn useful metaphor.

Jim Barton said...

A guy on NPR suggested this for people trying to write for a living. (As an attorney I'm one of those.) http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm
It's by Goerge Orwell and rails against the use of tired metaphors. He focuses on the problem on not thinking about what the metaphor means anymore.

You point out how one may not only look silly, but be hurtful, by using language thoughtlessly.

I'm also with Josh on dropping the war metaphors. Particularly while there are real people dying. It kind of turns my stomach a little to call sports people "warriors" or say they are "doing battle," etc.

wilablog said...

I stopped using the metaphor when my father was diagnosed with cancer. I understand exactly what you mean.

On a semi-related note: Not sure when I realized it, but I wince every time I hear someone use the Nazi metaphor. I stopped using that some time back. I always wonder if people knew I hated it so much if they would think I was overly sensitive. I am not Jewish and I don't know anyone who has direct ties to the holocaust, but I think that this metaphor should be put to bed as well.

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