Alanna Mitchell

Award-winning Canadian science journalist.



Malignant Metaphor: Confronting Cancer Myths, is the book I never expected to write.

It began as a piece of research a few years ago to help my beloved brother-in-law, John Patterson, when he was diagnosed with untreatable melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. His doctors told him that he had only a 60 per cent chance of being alive five years after they diagnosed him. They had nothing to offer. In fact, they told him nothing he did would make a scrap of difference.

John doesn’t take news like that very well. He launched into a quest to find some alternative therapies that might keep him alive, and asked me to read up. I was hooked.

As I immersed myself into understanding cancer, I ran smack up against a raft of myths our society has created around it – how we get it, how much there is, what we can do to forestall it. I realized that we hold three impossible beliefs at the same time: cancer is inevitable, preventable and deserved.

So I set about parsing those beliefs, testing them to see if they’re true. Short story: They’re not. There’s actually less cancer now that there was a few decades ago; it’s more treatable and more survivable; and we know precious little more about how our own actions affect whether or not we get it. In fact, cancer is common, random and unlucky. But that’s not the story we tell about it.

Just as I was figuring all this out, my 21-year-old daughter, Calista Michel, learned she had thyroid cancer. I spun out of control with grief and guilt, certain that I had done something wrong, that I had failed to forestall her disease.

The book is a chronicle of all that. It’s deeply personal. I wrote it in a great, ceaseless spurt while I was on a six-week writing grant from the Lannan Foundation in Marfa, Texas.

I came to believe that we must open a frank conversation about this malignant metaphor we’ve created, shine the light of information on it, hold some of the marketers of cancer breakthroughs to higher standards of truth when they try to prise more money out of our pockets.

It’s time to create new metaphors about cancer that strip some of the fear and dread away from this horrible disease.

Praise for Malignant Metaphor:

“By ‘liberating the facts,’ Mitchell turns the war on cancer into a hopeful dance.” Plum Johnson, author of They Left Us Everything

“Mitchell’s research is rooted in science, while her writing remains grippingly personal.” Quill & Quire

“In addition to her clear medical explanations, Mitchell’s compassionate attitude will bring comfort to those readers and their loved ones facing a cancer diagnosis.” Publisher’s Weekly

Franklin-cover200Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of the HMS Erebus, co-written with John Geiger, is now available in bookstores.AmazonIndigo

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