Pulling the Cancer Card


The "cancer card" is one of the only upsides to being diagnosed with cancer... but when does it go too far?

When I say that I am about to pull the “cancer card,” I'm not referring to the hard-plastic card I own, courtesy of the Stupid Cancer organization. Though I have mistaken the physical item for a real credit card on more than one occasion, the metaphorical cancer card is pretty much accepted everywhere, unlike my Discover IT card.

The cancer card is one of — if not the only – perks of having cancer. It's hard to properly define the cancer card, but it's essentially a “Get-Out-of-Jail-Free” card for cancer patients and survivors. No one is going to mess with a cancer patient.

I remember the first time I pulled the cancer card. It was around the time when my hair began falling out. I wanted to get something called a Headblade (essentially imagine that a Hot Wheels car had a baby with a Gillette razor, which sounds both terrifying and awesome all at the same time) to aid in shaving my head. The nearest one was at a CVS near my wife's workplace and she offered to pick it up on the way home from work one day. I called the store to see if they could put one on hold for me. They said that it was against store policy to do that, since it was the last one they had in stock.

Between my hair and white cell counts both rapidly falling to less than desirable levels, I was very frustrated. I was pretty sure I needed that razor more than a Bill Goldberg wannabe.

Exasperatedly, I exclaimed, "I have cancer and my hair is falling out. I'm shaving it tomorrow. Could you please just bend the policy a little bit for me?"

There was a pause on the line. "Of course. I'm sorry, I had no idea. I'll have it up front and ready for her to pick up. Good luck on your fight."

A moment of epiphany occurred. While I didn't want pity, I wanted to get my way when I could. While this may come off as selfish to people who have never had cancer, this was a way for me to balance the universe (and much less violent than a Thanos snap). Cancer took a lot from me, and this was a way to get some of it back.

It was a way to get small tokens or gestures of goodwill from random people, which is basically the exact opposite of not taking candy from strangers. The cancer card was a shining beacon in an otherwise dark life. When I wanted something or was frustrated, I just had to drop the C-word and people would bend over backwards to accommodate me.

Eventually, I realized I was going too far. I had begun playing the cancer card right and left. One day illustrates this better than all others.

I got into a feud on Twitter with someone and backed myself into a corner. I referenced that I had cancer, and ended up walking away from that argument with a gift card to Pizza Hut. The pizza was decent, but the taste of disgust at how I was abusing this cancer card outweighed the flavor of the deliciousness.

I had to right the path I was on. Cancer patients don't ask for this card and we would gladly give it back if I could. Repeatedly using it for personal gain is wrong. Here and there is OK (and to be honest, cancer patients and survivors deserve to be pampered from time to time). I totally pulled it out on my trip to Hawaii to see sets from Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and in tweets to try to meet with Chris Pratt (who I missed by only days). However, using the card for self-serving reasons multiple times in a day is simply a horrendous misuse of power.

Now, as a testicular cancer survivor, I am committed to using my cancer card for good instead of evil. I will ask for discounts on goods or services directly tied to my awareness and advocacy efforts. I endlessly tweet about being a cancer survivor to celebrities I idolize. I'll beg media outlets to highlight my story. I don't feel bad about pulling the cancer card in these scenarios. I'm not personally benefiting from these — the intended outcome of these asks are to help save lives and to educate young men about testicular cancer.

In the (modified) word of Peter Parker's uncle, with the great power of the cancer card comes great responsibility. If you're playing the cancer card, do it for the right reasons. I promise you — whatever you gain is not worth the feelings of self-worth you may lose.

That being said, I wouldn't say no to a new Pizza Hut gift card.

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