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Coping by metaphors: the versatile function of metaphors in blogs about living with advanced cancer
  1. Anna W Gustafsson1,
  2. Charlotte Hommerberg2,
  3. Anna Sandgren3
  1. 1 Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
  2. 2 Department of Languages, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden
  3. 3 Department of Health and Caring Sciences, Center for Collaborative Palliative Care, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anna W Gustafsson, Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Lund, Sweden; anna_w.gustafsson{at}


Living with a life-limiting cancer illness can entail a turmoil of feelings such as constant fear of loss, suffering and dying. Because patients live longer with life-limiting illness, there is a need for enhanced understanding of how people make sense of and cope with the complicated aspects that this life situation brings on. In this article, we explore how bloggers with advanced cancer use metaphors as ways of making sense of their experiences. Our study is theoretically grounded in Conceptual Metaphor Theory, where metaphors are seen as a powerful phenomenon that both reflects and affects our thinking. The data consist of a corpus of blogs written in Swedish by individuals with advanced cancer, and the findings from our linguistic metaphor analysis are consistently interpreted against the backdrop of literature on coping. Our study thus highlights the intersection of linguistic metaphor analysis and psychological theories of coping by illustrating the many and complex functions metaphors can have as part of sense-making processes. Our hermeneutic approach enables us to show some differences among the three most pervasive metaphor domains in our material, battle, journey and imprisonment: the journey and imprisonment domains are more flexible than the battle domain in terms of the different kinds of coping strategies that are actualised by the bloggers’ use of metaphors. One particular finding from our analysis is the way in which the bloggers make use of metaphors to compartmentalise experiences and emotions. Our contention is that careful attention to the metaphors used by patients can improve communication in healthcare and enhance understanding of the complex role language use plays in coping processes more generally. By highlighting the relation between metaphor use and coping, our analysis also provides a way to discuss coping strategies based on the patient’s own use of language.

  • metaphor
  • palliative care
  • cancer care
  • psychotherapy
  • psychology

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  • Contributors The conceptual work and analysis was led by AWG and discussed with CH and AS. AWG and CH share responsibility for the selection of empirical data and initial metaphor analysis. The paper was drafted by AWG with critical inputs by CH and AS. CH processed the text for coherence and readability. All authors approved the final version.

  • Funding This research was primarily supported through funding from the Kamprad Family Foundation, Sweden (grant number 20150008). The funders have had no influence on any aspect of this paper.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available The data set is stored in a password-protected corpus managed by Språkbanken (the Swedish Language Bank at Gothenburg University). Access can be granted by the authors upon reasonable request.