Playing the Cancer Card is kind of like playing the Very Elderly Person card or the Hugely Pregnant Card – it trumps everything else and people have to cut you some slack, give you their seat on the bus, tolerate your whining.
Not that I have actually used the Cancer Card on the bus (I’m still giving up my seats to those other esteemed card players) but I like to threaten to slap the Cancer Card on the table from time to time, as in, “Come on, don’t make me play the Cancer Card!”
It must be used lightly, and only in low-stakes situations. For example, it works well when trying to get friends to commit to an earlier dinner reservation or negotiating for the last piece of chocolate. If used properly it can be funny; it can kind of take the sting out of the fact that actually having cancer sucks.
I like to think I’m making light of cancer when I wave the Cancer Card around; like I’m reducing its power to a mere bargaining chip, a temporary inconvenience that I might foist upon those around me.
But my mother hates the Cancer Card. “Shhhh! Stop it, Leanne!” she admonishes while surrendering the last piece of chocolate (which she would have done anyway, being my mom.) Even if she is slightly amused, she’s also superstitious. She thinks I’m somehow goading the cancer, which is presumably a dangerous animal to be treated with caution or studiously ignored, not taunted from behind a flimsy fence of cavalier humour.
My husband has also experienced the Cancer Card’s evil twin, the totally un-funny Cancer Is My Excuse For Everything Card. Like any couple we have our disputes and on one or two occasions during such disputes it’s possible that, sinking to a new personal low, I may have prefaced a statement with, “Well, sorry I have cancer, but…”
I know – its deplorable behavior. It’s exploiting the seriousness of the disease and the suffering it causes people around you. It’s not funny, it’s manipulative. It’s not the same as playing the Cancer Card to get the last slice of pizza. Seriously, I cringe at the memory of having sunk so low. Twice.
Luckily, on both occasions, once the ill-played Cancer Is My Excuse For Everything Card was sheepishly withdrawn and apologies for my childish behavior were sincerely tabled, my forgiving husband let me off the hook with minimal shame-on-youing and tsk-tsking.
But what’s he going to do, stay mad? I mean, I’ve got cancer…