The Cancer Card

People are really supportive and sympathetic when they hear that you’ve had cancer. It is a wonderful thing, but I know that there are people who take advantage of it. I’ve read about people bringing it up when they’re trying to get their way at a restaurant or a store. Because people have such strong associations with cancer, it often works. Mentioning it automatically makes people want to be extra nice to you. So, of course, people do it to get their way. That seems so wrong.

I call it playing the cancer card.

If the cancer or treatments actually caused a problem that the person needed help with, that’s different. Reaching something from the electric cart, needing help getting groceries to the car, needing to move to another table because the smell of the woman’s perfume at the next table is making you sick – that’s all legitimate. That’s a real problem, and cancer is part of it. You can’t really explain the problem without explaining the cancer. But doing it only to get something for free or something you want when it’s not really a problem caused by the cancer is taking advantage of people. And it’s using a disease and people’s emotions in a truly unfeeling way.

I don’t want to do that. Ever.

At the same time, I’m very comfortable with my past. I don’t hide it, and if it’s relevant, I might say something about it. I’m not trying to mess with people. It’s like mentioning something that happened in school. It’s part of my life. Sometimes I get reminded of it or it relates to what we’re talking about, and it comes out.

Then, I worry that people think I did it on purpose. To get attention. To get special treatment.

Yesterday, I mentioned it without thinking. I was talking on the phone about a loan payment. They’d sent me some paperwork, and I didn’t get it done. I probably received it, but I was finishing my treatments around that time, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to everything else. I’m still playing catch-up. Well, when he started telling me about reminders I could do to keep it from happening again, I blurted out what happened.

I wasn’t trying to change anything. He had already told me what I needed to do, and I was ok with that. I was only trying to explain why it was a one-time kind of problem (I hope), so I didn’t really need the rest of the reminders and stuff.

I really shocked him. I could hear that he was upset and that he didn’t know what to say. I didn’t mean to. I’m so used to it that sometimes I forget that other people aren’t or that they might feel strongly about it.

I told him that I was ok now and wished him a good day. But I still feel guilty. I hope I didn’t upset his day too badly. I know first-hand how one upsetting call/customer at work can make the rest of the day harder. But I don’t know what to do about it. Or how to keep it from happening again.

I don’t want to upset people, but my experience with cancer is part of my life. I don’t want to have to ignore it or tiptoe around it either. Isn’t there some option besides ignoring it completely and seeming to play the cancer card?

I don’t know.

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