Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Playing the Cancer Card

Susan Gubar, a wonderful writer and teacher. has a piece in the New York Times called "Living with Cancer: Playing the C Card." It's about playing that card, using cancer as an excuse -- a good excuse or a bad one -- to do something we want to do -- or avoid something we don't.

It brought back a couple of memories.

I have written a lot about playing the C card. I do it a lot less now, but when I was first diagnosed, I was a frequent player.

I remember, just  a few days after I was diagnosed, when my Mom and Dad came to visit. They were eager to come right away, as soon as I told them about the diagnosis, but we asked them to hold off for a couple of days, until we had more information, and they could be with us when we told the kids (my wife's excellent idea). They arrived on Friday afternoon. They were downstairs playing with the kids; I was keeping myself busy, making dinner and setting the table. I was a couple of minutes from serving when my mom came to the kitchen to see if she could help. She saw the set table and the food being put into dishes. "Oh, you did it already," she said, little guilty.

I played The Card:

"Yeah," I said. "Nice. Make the guy with f---ing cancer do all the work." She laughed, as I had hoped she would, and then hugged me. "Oh my God," she whispered. "Who would have ever thought we'd be laughing about cancer?" I hugged he back and told her we shouldn't ever stop.

A few years later, after her own cancer diagnosis, the family was at a Pawtucket Red Sox baseball game. She and I went to get ice cream. We waited in line for soft ice cream, served in a miniature helmet. I whispered to her, "If you tell him you have cancer, he might give you free sprinkles on your ice cream. That's what I'm doing." She laughed. "No!" she said. "Don't embarrass the kid!"

But after she ordered, she said quietly, "I have cancer," and tried not to laugh. The kid serving the ice cream either didn't hear her, or ignored her, unsure of what to do.As we walked away, I told her, "No, you have to say it and then come right out and ask for the sprinkles."

Card played unsuccessfully.

Gubar's point, though, is that sometimes we play cards with ourselves -- we use cancer as a way to make deals to do things we've wanted to do, or should do. Ice cream may very well be involved.

But we also need to recognize that everyone has a card, and they don't all have a C on them. If anything, cancer should put things in perspective. When you play that card, look around and see who else is sitting at the table. Take a look at their hands, too.

I'll do that. And when I lay down my cards, I'll keep smiling, Maybe even laugh sometimes.

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