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Allegory - "spread like a cancer" - how do you feel about it, your reaction

New Flower
Posts: 4300
Joined: Aug 2009

Dear survivors,
please share your thoughts on a very sensitive issue. Very often cancer is used as an allegory in different contents. How do you feel when people around you who do Not know that you have had or are having cancer use it. What is your reactions, how do you take it and what is your approach? First time when I heard this phrase on TV I was really disappointed. I am getting better, while still feel that is very inappropriate reference to this awful disease. Most people, who use cancer as a reference or symbol of systemic problems did not have cancer or family member with cancer.
I just came out of a business meeting when cancer allegory was used twice. Of course it was not intensional as they did not know that I an a cancer survivor and have cancer, which is spread.
Hugs and Happy and Happy Thankgiving to all of my pink sisters and brothers.
New Flower

lynn1950's picture
Posts: 2574
Joined: Jun 2008

Wow! I don't know how I feel about it. I've never thought about it before. It does seem insensitive, even though unintentionally so.

Posts: 3598
Joined: Aug 2009

I never thought about it but it defiinately does not bother me at all.

To me, it can be a very good term to infer that 'something' bad/evil is spreading without being seen/out in the open. I could possibly see the term being used with certain 'issues' by some of different beliefs but it is the narrow minded/bigotry that is offensive. The term "spread like a cancer" does not bother me at all.

Winyan - The Power Within


SIROD's picture
Posts: 2204
Joined: Jun 2010

My first thought is the lyrics in the song by Simon and Garfunkel "Sound of Silence" .

"Fools" said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.".....

I have heard that phrase used "spread like a cancer" and it didn't bother me as spreading is what cancer does. I have had cancer for such a long, long time I've become immune to any reference done by other people. I am the first to talk about it if someone wants to know.

Hope your doing ok, New Flower and wishing you a good Thanksgiving,


laughs_a_lot's picture
Posts: 1369
Joined: Mar 2011

thought of it much. However, the saying may be becomming outdated if it is meant that the evil (other thing) spreads quickly. With the advances in treatment some of the spread of cancer itself has slowed down. So now the meaning of "spread like cancer" may also take on a newer meaning. I can see how some would take offense at this.

SIROD's picture
Posts: 2204
Joined: Jun 2010

I dislike disagree with you but some cancers still are very fast growing and some are very slow (ER+ like mine...slow train). I am not certain that it is with the advances in treatment but the type one has.

I do agree with the evil spreads quickly though.

Best to you,


Posts: 3598
Joined: Aug 2009

Many cancers are fast growing and spread insidiously. Inflammatory Breast Cancer is one of those. Granted only between 1% and 5% of all breast cancer is Inflammatory but for those of us who are IBC it is very real with not a very good prognosis compared to all other types! It is in the skin and lymphatic system - thus potentially the entire body. It can literally not be there one day but there the next.

I see nothin wrong with the phrase 'spreads like a cancer'! Cancer is potentially deadly and it does spread unless it is attacked vigorously.

faith_trust_and_a_little_bit_of_chemotherapy's picture
Posts: 318
Joined: Jun 2010

The use of the word 'like' to compare different things is a literary device known as a simile, an allegory better describes an entire poem, story, or novel and often by the use of irony.

To be frank, I have never heard 'spread like cancer,' but am familiar with the idiom, 'spread like wildfire'.

I suspect that there is a certain sensitivity that we find ourselves living with as cancer survivors. Those of us that are mothers know we find ourselves 'tuned in' to small children to the point that when we hear "MOM" in a crowded market or mall we can't help but look about. It is human nature that we test new things against our past experiences.

I am reminded of the immortal words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." I firmly believe when we choose to be offended by words we give away the personal knowledge of who we are.

Words are essential to our self-expression and necessary so that we can relate to one another. "Spread like cancer" is most likely a clumsy way to relate by the user, something that he/she finds very frightening. Who are we and what have we learned if we cannot extend a bit of grace from time to time?

Gabe N Abby Mom's picture
Gabe N Abby Mom
Posts: 2415
Joined: Sep 2010

I'm wondering if the stage IV cancer survivors are more sensitive to the phrase than other cancer survivors? Then I started wondering if how long one was stage IV made a difference?

For me personally, I'm not bothered by the phrase. After all, the speaker is not talking about me specifically. And I can't think of a situation where the phrase would be used with malice.

Interesting discussion, thanks for bringing it up.



New Flower
Posts: 4300
Joined: Aug 2009

Thank you Ladies,
I agree with Linda that level of sensitivity is depending on weather or not you are in remission or in treatment. Doris you are probably correct about educating people who has no clue, while is using medical vocabulary and terminology. It seems to me that instead of articulating their ideas and express themselves better they use easy way out by bringing cancer allegory.
I promise to work on myself growing thick skin and feel less vulnerable. I have been living with cancer without thinking about it, trying to have a normal live it was shocking to me when somebody used cancer to explain a organizational problem within a successful business brought.
My best wishes to all
New Flower

salls41's picture
Posts: 340
Joined: Apr 2012

I personally think it is appropriate when used in the right sense...cancer spreads, it is nnasty, it is hard to take control of and it does exist. I am not offended in the least. More people should understand how horrible cancer is BEFORE they toss the term around lightly... but when used in the right contents to drive a point home, it works,

KathiM's picture
Posts: 8062
Joined: Aug 2005

There are many expressions that have become a part of our culture that, while seemingly harmless, can inadvertently affect someone in a negative way.

I am guilty of using some sayings that were just that...and then realized my mistake and apologized. I feel that it comes down not so much the expression, but the intent. If it was not planned for hurt, I just discard it, and don't take it to heart. If there WERE ulterior motives...then, I ACT and act FAST! Usually with a scathing remark or two...or, as with this saying, pause, and then say, in a calm voice, ..."You know, you are right about cancer...I have first-hand experience, not once, but twice!"...usually stops the comment from coming up again. At least around me.

BIG hugs to you, dearheart...of COURSE you are sensitized to this!!!! But I am fairly sure no harm was meant. Cancer IS a beast and DOES take all opportunities to do nasty things...so in that light, this expression does make sense when describing a terrible thing...

Hugs, Kathi

Posts: 6068
Joined: Oct 2010

I have always told my girls to watch what they say in public..you never know who has been through what OR who they know or who their family is...

YOU can not tell by looking at people there health history.

IN group setting I would say I Had/ have cancer but in meeting perhaps speak to presenter!


Posts: 6068
Joined: Oct 2010

on kind of the same note:

People make comments about handi cap parking. MY 2 good friends LOOK healthy but very very bad breathing issues. They can't not walk long distances-but to others looks like taking advantage of parking spot. (if have permit)


Posts: 534
Joined: Dec 2010

There are hundreds of 'sayings' which can be new or originated centuries ago. Most of us don't know where they came from or what they really mean but grew up with them and copied. Most are not intended to be harmful just a habit. People in this country frown upon the expression Oh my God but we used this all our lives and very hard to break. Certainly don't intend to upset people but sometimes we are too sensitive and politically correct. Everything can become taboo.

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