In the stories about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis, many people are talking about his “fight” and his “battle” against the disease and noting his strong personality. But are these militaristic metaphors really helpful to people across the country who are dealing with various forms of cancer?

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

In the stories about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis, many people are talking about his “fight” and his “battle” against the disease and noting his strong personality.

But are these militaristic metaphors really helpful to people across the country who are dealing with various forms of cancer?

I understand the motivation of those who want to encourage patients to listen to their doctors, to do everything they can to maintain good health and also to keep a positive attitude in the face of what must be confusing, painful and daunting.

But I think we need to find better language to describe those who are remaining positive and focused on their recovery without resorting to battle phrases. When you put too much focus on willpower, you diminish the importance of science and medicine, which is actually what Mr. Ford and the estimated 191,000 other Canadians who will be diagnosed with cancer this year really depend on.

One real problem with these phrases is that if and when someone succumbs to these terrible illnesses, the statement that they “lost the fight” or “the battle with cancer” is unfair and hurtful to the surviving family members. Their death is not because they did not fight hard enough; it is for complex medical reasons beyond their control.

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