Friday, March 12, 2010

Playing 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, 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.

Wednesday, after chemo, my husband and I went to register my youngest child for high school. (Short detour for a mommy brag: he's an A+ Super Student in a rigorous program, and at age thirteen, he will start his freshman year taking Honors Biology, Honors World History, Honors English 4, French 3 and Algebra II.  His choice. With a student like that, I am not going home to rest after chemo.  If he can work that hard at his age, I certainly can be strong enough to sit there when he hears about the beginning of his high school years, taxol flowing through my veins or no.)

So, I am in the MP room, wobbly from chemo, wearing my scarf and earrings and layers of clothes to keep the chill off, tissues pressed to my nose and eyes, with a room full of coughing parents. I'm thinking about the germs flying and my low blood levels, and then it's time to go sign up for IBO parent groups and the like.  I walk back to the computers and get my hand sanitizer ready for when it's my turn for data entry.  I lean over and start to punch in names, email addresses, and my eyes are watery, dripping really,  and my nose is running and I can't see the keyboard and it's a damn Mac and where is the damn backspace key, and I'm wiping my eyes and wobbling around and feeling faint.  I turn around to see if my son is behind me to finish for me, and the man in line behind me who has been staring at the back of my scarf, now looks me in my hairless face and snarls, "Are you freaking done yet?" 

Um yeah, I am.  So what if Sacremento is spelled wrong?

That is pretty much the reaction I get everywhere.  People still cut in front of me at the grocery store line, they still try and steal my parking space, not a soul has offered me a chair or a one-up.  I have taken my son to  appointments where there were two waiting room chairs only, and a mom and her kid sitting.  Both looked at me, neither moved.  (I can no longer stand for long periods, so I sat on the floor, I'm not proud.)

Maybe it's me.  Maybe I just don't look sick enough.  Maybe it's California.  Maybe we have so many people with "individual senses of personal style" that a scarf on the head, super pale skin and no eyebrows doesn't signal cancer anymore.  Maybe we are just an uncaring and rude culture.  Maybe we are just completely unobservant. 

Maybe I expected too much.

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.

It would seem that the cancer cards are are a bust.


  1. I randomly heard about your blog from another blog in Baltimore. I enjoy reading your posts. You have a great voice. I would definitely let you have my seat or go a head of me in the grocery store line!

    Congrats to your son!

  2. Your son sounds amazing!

    Before chemo, I would ride a bus to work (go green!) - now that I'm a germaphobe I'm not doing it. Anyway when I was on the bus and an elderly, or visibly sick or pregnant person would get on and the lazy college kids in the clearly labeled "elder/disabled" seating section would not move - I would jump on their case. Lazy assholes. Actually, often times the bus driver beat me to it. Our world has gotten ridiculously inconsiderate and selfish. Rant over.

    Have a good weekend - I'm off for my Neulasta shot!

  3. Welcome ELT!

    I should have put this in my post - but I thought the same thing when I was pregnant - people would treat me special. But they didn't. I guess when you are facing something so overwhelming in your life, and which causes physical difficulty - whether for a good reason or a negative one - you just can't believe it goes unacknowledged by others.

    To me it's amazing a mom would let a kid sit over an adult - even a cancer free adult. My son always gives up seats for others, that's the rule. His legs have barely been used. :)

  4. Even my son, considered a lazy, pot smoking degenerate by many, would give up his seat to a woman whether she was physically/apparently ill or not simply because she was a woman/female and to ANY adult, male or female, older than himself. That's common courtesy - although sadly lacking these days. I also ride the bus and the Catholic school students who also ride it, take up TWO seats each, spralled out with their back packsand sleeping, while the business people crowd onto the bus juggling past these students. It's appalling - one day I will tell these over-priviliged children to start minding their manners. :-)

  5. Ha, ha. I use the cancer card with such regularity my husband rolls his eyes. I can't shovel snow, I have cancer. I have to go to a full serve gas station, I have cancer. I can't carry heavy things, I have cancer. It also works for getting out of dinner with the in-laws or staying out late to do something I don't want to do...

  6. I'm in the midst of Taxol and just lost the eyebrows and lashes and I haven't rec'd any special treatment from strangers either, but the other night I was pulled over while driving my husband's car with one dead headlight. The nice cop took my license and went back to his car for a few minutes then gave my license back and told me to get it fixed very soon....didn't even ask for my insurance info and didn't give me a written warning even. Maybe it was my hairless face that engaged his sympathy, but more likely the "Chemo Sucks" hat (a gift from a longtime friend) I was wearing. ;-)

  7. Ann, that's HORRIBLE. I would have told that guy where to go stick the mouse (after I had finished with it, of course). And it's not just Cali - Beantown has quite a rep for not offering seats in public trans to those who need them. It's because no one knows anyone anymore; I'd give any kid sitting down in a chair while an adult stood a piece of my mind. Not that I can spare much.

    Next time, just walk over and sit in his lap!

  8. What an awesome blog you write. Loved this post, especially -- outstanding. Fresh, honest, and funny at all once. -- Erika

  9. I'm slow getting caught up on your blog posts but this one tore me up! My girls had better not EVER sit there when an elderly or sick person (visibly) is standing and waiting. They know that if we're waiting for a table at a restaurant (which in Delaware is almost a given) that if someone walks in older than they are, they are to give up their seat or mommy's giving them the evil eye. I'm appalled that you all have been treated so poorly.

  10. "I'm sorry that the side effects of my chemo have so greatly inconvenienced you."


    I've taken to calling people out on their rudeness anymore. People are rude because no one calls them on it. The 60 year old man who cut in front of my then 3-yo in line at the Target snack counter (with his little dimes lined up on the counter to buy popcorn) got a calm comment. The gal who zoomed by me to cut me off to turn into the grocery store lot and then came within inches of backing into me as she made her 73-point turn into the first spot facing "the other way" got a comment as well... especially after I nearly died in a car accident last year.

    Speak up! Out loud! Maybe not all the time, as you don't want your day to be full of negative energy, but honestly, people need to behave.

    Kudos to you! I've been (is "enjoying" a good word?) reading your blog since last night. I just turned 40 and found a dimple when I raise my arm. I have a mammo scheduled in 10 days. I'm quite terrified. We'll see what the next couple of weeks bring. I'm hoping for fat necrosis (though I don't think that's likely) or something else.

    I appreciate the windo into cancer treatment that you've provided. I've always had empathy for those undergoing chemotherapy... but now the volume is turned up. ~Amy


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