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The Personal is Rhetorical: War, Protest, and Peace in Breast Cancer Narratives

The Ohio State University Libraries
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  • Biology
  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • Medicine


The language of war dominates breast cancer discourse, pervading every aspect of the experience, and determining how the patient and others understand the illness. Women are enlisted in a battle against the self, their bodies made war zones, with cancer as the enemy, medical professionals as infallible heroes, and treatments of search-and-destroy by any means possible. While this metaphor may serve to motivate some women, we should not accept it uncritically as the only and right way to make sense of this disease; furthermore, we should recognize how the war metaphor delimits the ways women can talk about breast cancer, potentially silencing women for whom a combat mode is inappropriate or ineffective. Drawing upon narrative theory and rhetorical analysis of disability memoirs, this article first examines breast cancer narratives characterized by sanctioned rhetorical frameworks then considers the potential of alternative discourses, such as those of protest and peace, to write a different kind of illness experience.

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