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Thursday February 28th 2019


Life Redefined: The Cancer Card

Post Published: 23 March 2010
Category: Column, Life Redefined, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column
This post currently has 21 responses. Leave a comment

(Written by Joanna Isbill, Editor, Life Redefined, Dear Thyroid)

Shortly after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I received a card in the mail from an organization that shall remain nameless.   This wasn’t a “Get Well Soon!” card or a “Thinking About You” card. This was a discount card. Hello, poor college student;I love a good discount! This discount card was for a rental car through a particular rental car company. Awesome. I love to rent cars and drive them around for extended periods of time. It makes me forget I have cancer. OK, not really. But when I got the card, I thought, “How nice. So many people have to travel to receive cancer treatments. This is a nice way to help ease the financial burden… Then, I realized I couldn’t rent a car. I was too young. ,  This particular rental car company requires renters to be 25 years or older, and at the time I was 24. Not that I am one of those patients who has to travel to receive treatment, but it was still kind of a slap in the face that I couldn’t use the card if I wanted or needed to. Nice cancer present. THEN, I see there is an expiration date. And the expiration date has already come and gone. Are you serious?! Way to kick somebody who is already down and out. I wanted to call this organization and ask, “Is this your way of telling me you’re always available to help me? If so, try again. If you can’t manage to send me a discount car rental card that is not expired, a simple”. Cheer up, Charlie’ card would have sufficed. Or nothing at all would be okay, too. I wasn’t expecting anything in the first place… But I didn’t call. And honestly, with the exception of this one blunder, the organization has proven to be quite useful.

So I never got to use the discount card, but there is another card I was handed the day I was diagnosed with cancer. It’s a card I’ve used many times: the cancer card. I pull the cancer card when I need things to work in my favor. I use it to communicate a sense of urgency. I use it to get things done in a timelier manner, and it’s effective because the word “cancer” tends to light a fire under people. It’s a card that can be abused, but it’s also a card that can serve a good purpose when pulled in the appropriate situation.

I’ve used it at the pharmacy to communicate that I need my medicine and I need it today. I recently used it when talking to a financial rep regarding my student loans. Why? So he could understand where I was coming from and get to the solution faster. My parents have even used my cancer card, which I think is awesome. Why shouldn’t they? My cancer negatively affects them, too.

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, my mom and I made a trip to the grocery store, most likely to pick up food to prepare for the low iodine diet. All of the close parking spots were taken with the exception of the handicap spots and the two or so spots on the front row that are reserved for new and expectant mothers. My mom pulled the cancer card and whipped into one of those reserved parking spots. I questioned what she was doing. We didn’t have a baby with us and neither of us was pregnant. She turned to me and said, “You have cancer. It’s OK to park here… And so we parked there because she didn’t want me to expend more energy than necessary, and in her mind, on that day, the cancer card trumped the newborn baby card.

Several months ago I had a pressing health issue come up and I needed to see my doctor that day. I called and talked to a medical assistant to try to set up an appointment, but she couldn’t (wouldn’t?) make it happen. And she said my doctor was going to be out of town the entire next week, so it would be a while before I could see him. That wasn’t going to cut it for me because my doctor always tells me he is always willing to see me if I need help. So I drove to my doctor’s office, walked in, and pulled the cancer card. The conversation went something like this:

“I need to see my doctor…

“He’s busy;he’s in the middle of a biopsy and he will be doing biopsies the rest of the day…

“I need to see him today. I have cancer. I’m not feeling well. I am one of his cancer patients, and I need to see him. He told me he would see me anytime. I have cancer, I am having issues, and I need to see him…

“OK, let me go talk to him…

Lady leaves to go talk to my doctor. A couple minutes later, she comes back to the front desk.

“He’ll see you in a few minutes…


Do I barge into my doctor’s office without an appointment often? No. I’ve only done it once because I don’t like to steal time from other patients. In this case, it was necessary. And I pulled the cancer card to make it happen. I don’t feel guilty using my cancer card in situations like this because I cannot make myself heard without it.

The cancer card. I carry it with me without choice. I use it unashamedly by my own volition.

Do you think it’s OK to use the cancer card? Have you ever done it? Do you feel guilty using it? Spill your thylignant guts.





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21 Responses to “Life Redefined: The Cancer Card

  1. Regina says:

    You gotta play the hand with the cards you’re dealt. If you get the CANCER card, I say play it! I’ve used it myself but not ABused it. Sometimes I feel guilty afterward but hey, does anyone else feel bad for me? NOT!

  2. I adapt my cancer card to the “Young Adult Cancer Card”. I use it to advocate and fight for my care (it’s my life on the line and I feel 100% justified in doing so.) I stress to people that I a not just a cancer patient but a young cancer patient. I am happy to tug on people’s heart strings if it means getting my medical records, scheduling an appointment, having a pharmacist call me back. I wrote a book on young adult cancer and in it I interviewed a guy named Greg who said: “I cannot fight my cancer, I have to let medicine and doctors do that. But I can fight my doctors and the system to get me the best care possible.” The cancer card is a tool that when used wisely will open doors for you.

    Kairol Rosenthal

  3. Joanna says:

    Perfectly said, Regina. If I’m not abusing it (and I don’t think I ever have), I don’t feel guilty for using the cancer card.

  4. Dear Thyroid says:

    Regina – Really interesting point.

    Joanna – Love this article so much.

  5. Nina says:

    That is excellent, I too have used the cancer card to gain a sence of urgency from both my GP’s reception and also my hospitals reception. I seemed to be the only person that thought the word cancer deserved a sense of urgency. Did I feel guilty for using it? Yes, was I impressed with the effect I had from using? Totally!

  6. Joanna says:

    Thanks so much for sharing, Nina. When you use the cancer card in situations like you described, what exactly makes you feel guilty? Do you feel like you’re taking advantage of others?

  7. Lolly says:

    You got to do what you got to do and if that means using the cancer card then so be it,I wouldn’t feel guilty if if I were in your position.


  8. Joanna says:

    Thank you, Kairol, you make excellent points, as does Greg. The cancer card has absolutely opened doors for me that would have remained closed had I kept the card in my pocket.

  9. Joanna says:

    Lolly, thank you for your wonderful, unwavering support!

  10. HD inOregon says:

    Hello Joanna,

    Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    I am usually very outspoken about my cancer (and I don’t hide my Frankenstein scar, and I have a huge one, either). I too have used the “cancer card” occasionally (buy not too often).


  11. Joanna says:

    Thank YOU for sharing, HD! Why don’t you use your cancer card more often? Do you not feel the need to use it, or do you not like to use it?

  12. Robyn says:

    You go girl! I would call that making “lemonade” or a “silver lining”. It is totally fine by me to get something good out of your terrible luck.

  13. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Robyn. I think it’s important for all of us to find the silver lining of our diseases.

  14. Stephanie says:

    If you have earned it, I say use it. We all know it works.

  15. Lori says:

    I don’t think there is any reason to feel guilty.

    Joanna, I think you said it beautifully…quote—“The cancer card. I carry it with me without choice. I use it unashamedly by my own volition.”

  16. Joanna says:

    Absolutely, Stephanie! Have you been cursed with the card?

  17. Joanna says:

    Agreed, Lori–I don’t think there is any reason at all to feel guilty!

  18. Jen says:

    I actually had to pull out the cancer card yesterday, not that I blame anyone, but I was told I would have to wait a month to find out what course of treatment I was going to get for my cancer. When I called the doctor’s office and pulled out my card and I was able to get in to see the doctor in two weeks. I just received the card and don’t plan to pull it out off, but in this case I needed to.

  19. You are your own best advocate…and in our current health care system you NEED to advocate for yourself. It is important that you feel empowered to pull whatever card out that gets you what you need to have the best health and care you can have. If it happens that you cannot advocate for yourself then your loved ones need to have been empowered to advocate for you. Please keep using that card as long as you need it and for as long as it is valid!

  20. Joanna says:

    Wow, Jen, great use of the card!!!

  21. Joanna says:

    Thanks for the support, Keesha!

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