Playing the ‘C’ Card

Going to chemo every few weeks is a good reality check.  If I started to feel sorry for myself, one look around the waiting room quickly snuffed that out as I saw people who’ve been dealt a far tougher hand.

I believe in avoiding self-pity.  And, for most of my 10 years living with cancer, I believed in avoiding the pity of others.  But shortly after my prognosis changed to ‘terminal’, I reconsidered that position.  

While I still did not want my friends and family to treat me differently, I realized that I should consider an exception for other people.  In particular, people like hotel managers, flight attendants, and maitre d’s. 

My first time playing the ‘C’-card worked out great.  My daughter Ella and I were in Wyoming and planning dinner at a mountain-top restaurant.  Their on-line reservation system asked: “Is this a special evening?”.   Well…OK…you asked.  So I responded that I have stage 4 cancer and this was a special father-daughter trip…likely our last together to Jackson Hole.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we received an extraordinarily warm welcome and were ushered through the crowd to a table perched in the center of the signature view with an unusual buffer of space between it and the other tables.  The movable window wall had been opened so we were literally right on the edge of the mountain.  

Ella and I looked at each other a little uncomfortably and then sat down as the surrounding diners, no doubt curious to see whom this incredible table was being held for, were searching the facial-recognition parts of their brains to match us against celebrity photos.  

Ella nervously asked “Dad, why are we sitting here?”  A good question because I’m normally the guy who gets seated near the kitchen and doesn’t complain.  I must give off a special ‘will not object’ scent as I approach a hostess stand.  I told Ella about the little note that I added to our reservation and admitted that I never expected they’d take it quite this seriously.  

As we finished a lovely dinner - with outstanding attention from the waitstaff and a complimentary dessert from the chef - Ella advised that I put a little less spring in my step as we exit the restaurant. She was right. I was early stage-4 at that point and still feeling pretty well, so we thanked everyone and left the restaurant at a slow shuffle.

The last time I played the C-card, it did not work out so well. I had to go to London for business. I had enough miles for an upgrade to first class but no seats showed available on American Airlines’ website.  At this point, I wasn’t feeling quite as well and the long coach flight would be uncomfortable.  So I reached out to AA, explained that I am a late-stage cancer patient, and asked if they could help me use miles to get bumped to a better seat.

A day later, I received a call from the airline.  Great, I thought, good old AA taking care of a loyal customer.  Wrong. The very nice woman was calling to cancel my reservation because I had laid it on a bit thick and now they were worried about transporting a seriously ill passenger.  It took 20 minutes but I finally convinced her that I was well enough for the trip and would be just fine in coach.

Lesson: It’s OK to play the C-card…but don’t over-play it.