Narratives about Cancer: What Metaphors can tell us about Depressive Symptoms in Breast Cancer Patients

Valeria A. Pfeifer, Karen L. Weihs, Vicky T. Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metaphors are pervasive in cancer discourse. However, little is known about how metaphor use develops over time within the same patient, and how metaphor use and its content relate to the mental health of the patient. Here, we analyzed metaphor use in personal essays written by breast cancer patients shortly after the time of diagnosis and nine months later, in relation to their depressive symptoms at both time points. Results show that metaphor use can provide important insight into a patient’s current mental state. Specifically, patients who had no change in their depressive symptom levels used metaphors more densely after nine months. In addition, metaphor valence in the later essay was associated with depressive symptoms at study entry and nine months after. Lastly, we observed a shift in metaphor reference pattern for different symptom trajectories, such that those who recovered from initially elevated depressive symptoms used fewer self-referencing metaphors and more cancer-referencing metaphors in their later essay. Our work suggests that metaphor use reflects how a patient is coping with their diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalHealth Communication
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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