Sunday, January 18, 2009

Playing the "C" card

Many of you are very aware of what the "C" card refers to, because you've seen me play it a time or two. Perhaps I have even whipped it out and used it on you. I'm not sorry. We all have the hand that we were dealt, and since I got stuck with this one, I should get to play the card when necessary. That's how you win the game, after all.

Did I take the metaphor too far? Too bad. I have cancer.

The truth is, I try to be prudent in my use of the card. I was reluctant in the early days, when I was first diagnosed, to play it at all, because I was trying so hard to just have a normal life. I didn't want to feel distracted at work, distant around my friends, or short with my family. I didn't want to need the excuse or explanation as to why I was feeling those things. But not playing the card was sometimes detrimental. At the time, I commuted to work every morning on the metro. Most mornings, when I stepped onto the red line train at Judiciary Square, the train would be full. Stoically, I would stay standing, even if I was so tired I felt like my legs were wobbling more than the train. At work, I would get defensive if I felt an assignment wasn't being given to me because my colleagues and supervisors were trying to protect me from too much work or stress. In lines, at parties, on people's birthdays and special events, I powered through. Asking a healthy person to give up their seat, acknowledging my need for shorter work hours, and backing out of plans when I needed to, would have all been reasonable for someone with cancer, but to play the card in those moments, felt like an admission of vulnerability that I wasn't ready to acknowledge.

And then, I had a year of remission. And in that year, I gained some important perspective. I began to see those decisions through the eyes of someone healthy again, and realized that I had done myself a disservice by failing to acknowledge my needs. I looked back at the moments when I had played the card, casual moments when it was almost always a joke – calling shotgun in a friend's car, picking where we were going for lunch, justifying a crude joke. I couldn't – or at least didn't – acknowledge the cause and effect relationship between being sick, and the daily physical and emotional challenges I faced. And I think I was scared that if I played the card when it counted, the response I would get would be disappointing. After all, the first time I desperately needed someone to act unselfishly, I was met with a crushing disappointment, when my close friend/roommate announced that she was moving out five days after my initial diagnosis.

A few days after being re-diagnosed, I found myself on the phone with a United Airlines ticketing agent. I had to change my flight home for Rosh Hashanah, because I needed to stay in town for testing and a bone marrow biopsy. The agent informed me of the financial penalty associated with last minute booking changes, and I found myself feeling sincerely justified in playing the card this time. I told the agent the last minute change was necessary because I had just been re-diagnosed with cancer. And to my surprise, she waved the fee without another question and wished me good luck. Several weeks later, the American Airlines agent with whom I was re-booking my flight home for Thanksgiving, did the same. I felt, on some level, as though I was abusing my situation, but the truth is, those tickets were actually being re-booked because of scheduling changes that could not have been foreseen. 

Similarly, when I realized what this treatment was going to entail, I knew that powering through and missing only two days of work during every round of chemo like I had the first time around, was not going to be possible. I was, as with the airlines, but a hundred times more so, relieved and surprised with the graciousness, kindness and generosity of my employers when I realized I had to take some medical leave. And I am learning constantly, in ways big and small, that at times, it is wholly healthy and self-preserving to play the card. 


Kyra said...

Just curious as to why you aren't in freelancing doing op-ed pieces? Your writing is stunning. I will be doing the WBC dance this week to encourage engraftment. It's a simple 'shake your booty' type dance that anyone can do. Try it!! Share it with your friends! A urine specimen cup filled with the little circles from a hole puncher make for a great shaker! Jiggle it each morning to will those cells along!! Voodoo---maybe? But I've seen crazier things work. Much love to you! Kyra

the mol said...

I, too, was reluctant to play the card. Maybe because it isn't really my disease. Especially during the beginning of my boy's treatment, when he was doing well, I just didn't feel like we needed help. Perhaps someone else needed it more. Perhaps another child was sicker. But now...since tumors aren't supposed to grow during chemo, and inpatient chemo for days at a time is more of a challenge, we've started playing the card a little more.

Sammie said...

What you REALLY have cancer -- it wasn't just a ploy to get out of work??? Wow!
(I couldn't resist....)

Missed you today as we froze our butts off for 7 hours on the Mall -- it was great and energizing.

Abby said...

Lis, your writing is amazing. Why not get working on that book deal? I really loved this piece, and really realy miss you. Vonage phone date this week?

Lina Dreyfus Wallace said...

So...the C card is why you were able to tell that crude Sarah Palin joke? Adam is still telling it to friends and family, as much as possible. :-) Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Gloria Froman said...

Asking for what you need is not something that came easy for you.
To learn this skill is a gift for you and for your loved ones. Defining your needs and letting your loved ones fulfill them , wow, it does not get better than that. I learn valuable lessons from you each and every day. I am very grateful and I love you very much. Mahm

Becky Froman said...

I must thank you personally for giving me the "Sister" card, for my last birthday. Quite literally, it is an olive green card with turquoise lettering that has worn a special place in my wallet. I carry it with me every place I go, every day. And, I believe I have played it on you a few times. I know we have a mixture of similar and unique cards, and I am grateful that we share our hands.