Never Over Play the “Cancer Card”

Being the kind of person I am, almost the first thing I thought of once I heard the words “you have cancer” was what an interesting sociological experiment having a visible illness that invokes the specter of death would be. Of course, friends and family would naturally be worried, sympathetic and want to help. My main interest would be studying the reactions of strangers to my illness. Would there be any advantages?

I wanted to play the Cancer Card.

I pictured myself going out in scarves, pale skin and eyelash and eyebrow-free, and having perfect strangers see me, seeing the hand I was dealt, realizing I have CANCER, and allowing me to go in front of the grocery store line or perhaps give me a seat on the bus (not that I’d ever take a bus, but you get my drift). Just in general be nice to me because I have CANCER.

I figured sympathy from strangers was part of the deal, and even as I still had my hair (no chemo), I planned how I would weakly smile and be ever so grateful for these small kindnesses and nod at the person who got their good karma for the day for helping out the sick and, for all they knew, dying.

Hey, something good has to come from this, even if it’s only the fact that strangers find their humanity and are nice to me.

I forgot it wasn’t 1952. And people fear different. Having cancer makes us different in the eyes of strangers.

And I didn’t have chemo, which meant, I didn’t loose my hair. So, that plan went out the door.

Anyway, no matter where I go, I don’t get treated any differently than I had before. Nobody turns away from me, and nobody turns toward me. They are just indifferent. Other than one woman. She took a step backward when she heard I had cancer. Like it was contagious or something. But that is a story for another time.

Maybe I expected too much.

The cancer card. If you haven’t heard of THE cancer card before, you probably don’t have a clue what it is, but before I tell you what it is, I’ll tell you what it isn’t. It isn’t an actual, physical card you can hold in your hand. It isn’t a greeting card related to cancer, although, there are some cards you can send to cancer patients. Some of them are quite serious with heartfelt sentiments and some are hilariously funny. THE cancer card isn’t funny unless the user knows how to use it in humorous or awkward situations.

So what is the cancer card? The “cancer card” is a term coined by those affected by cancer in some way, shape or form. The cancer card is kind of like a “get out of jail free” card in the game of Monopoly. It’s like a secret weapon you keep tucked in the back pocket of your jeans for special occasions. There are no rules for using the cancer card, other than it is the user who decides the appropriate at the time it’s use. The cancer card is powerful, but must be used carefully and only on an “as needed” basis. The cancer card trumps everything.

I don’t know when I received my cancer card. I don’t remember anyone slipping one into my hand. Maybe someone tucked it into my bag at the hospital when I wasn’t looking. I didn’t find the cancer card until some months after I’d had my breasts removed and I didn’t even realize I was contemplating using it until a few minutes before I did. Of course, without knowing the rules of playing the card, I had to make them up on my own. I followed my gut. I timidly slipped the card onto the table. Cautiously, I made my move. As I placed the imaginary card face up in front of my family, I heard words coming from my mouth that gave the card its power. “I just can’t tonight,” I said, “My body isn’t the same since surgery. I’m just too tired. Cancer has taken my energy.” Just like that, BAM! I’d played my very first cancer card. What a relief! My family bought it. The cancer card had worked! That night, I discovered the cancer card was magical. It could replenish itself at will. Although I’d played one cancer card, I still had a full deck of them at my disposal. I felt them in my pocket and I was going to keep the deck handy just in case.

How do we use the cancer card? It’s best to use the card in low-stake situations and if used properly, it can help others understand how terribly, horrible cancer is and how sucky it is to have it. The cancer card should be played with fingers lightly holding one corner of the card in case a quick recoil is necessary. The cancer card doesn’t always work. Use of the card must be weighed carefully by the player. It isn’t wise to play the card often.

Why does anyone use the cancer card? For one, it’s convenient. If an excuse is needed to get out of doing something, the cancer card buys your freedom. The card never gets used up or worn out. For the most part, people are understanding and accepting when you play the cancer card. Most of them don’t even realize the card is being played but after a time or two, they may wise up and start to reject it.

Does anyone really enjoy having to play the cancer card? The jury is out on this one. Some may find the power of the cancer card too compelling to disregard while others may hesitate to pull a card from the deck. It’s a personal choice to play, but if you do play, please play responsibly. Remember, although cancer has affected your life in a dramatic way, using cancer as your way out of difficult situations by playing the card isn’t always a good thing. Your loved ones are probably aware of the physical limitations cancer has placed on your body. They want to be understanding and accepting of your disabilities. They want to support you and help you. And remember this: The cancer card can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Feelings can be hurt and misunderstandings can occur.

The cancer card should always be played in jest. Cancer, though nothing to laugh about, needs a little humor added to it on occasion. The cancer card can do just that. When played with the right spirit, a smile should always accompany the card while in play and sometimes, a little added laughter doesn’t hurt either.

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