It's the second time my headscarf's got me preferential treatment today. This morning, in the packed radiotherapy waiting room, a woman gave up her seat for me. 'Oh here, love,' she smiled. 'You have it – I'm not a patient.' And on the way back from the hospital last week in a minor traffic jam on Chelsea Embankment, I managed to silence a very shouty, road-raged woman who was shrieking abuse at anyone in her path from the windows of her MX5. When our cars aligned, I looked calmly in her direction and said, 'Just what have you got to moan about, lady?' And, by 'eck, it felt good.
Grateful as I am for such minor cancer upsides, there's a moral question here, no? While I don't think anyone's going to deny a cancer patient taking advantage of some assistance whenever they can, at what point does assistance become milking it? When it comes to playing the cancer card, what are the rules?
This isn't exclusively a cancer game, of course. There's a range of suits in this deck: cancer, health, age, sex... And it's perfectly acceptable, is it not, to play the pregnancy card – whether for a seat on the tube or a free upgrade on the train. So, by that token, is the cancer excuse fair game? (I'll see your stomach cramps and raise you a bald head.)
I'll give up my poker face – breast cancer is an excuse I've been known to use on occasion. But not half as much as I could have done. Or even as much as I'd like to have done. I'm a long way off getting comfy on the moral high ground, here. While I believe that the cancer card should be reserved only for mischief purposes on special occasions, like a pair of red heels you keep for big nights out, I sure as eggs is eggs wouldn't begrudge anyone using it whenever they bloody well wanted. While I'm not suggesting that cancer should be a get-out-of-jail-free card that excuses you from murder, robbery, abuse or buying Sting albums, I reckon the odd dish-washing swerve, tea-making dodge and remote-control hog are more than acceptable, given the circumstances. (A word to the wise, though – cancer cards don't wash with Seetickets. I wasn't well enough to make it to a pre-booked gig last year, but no amount of breast cancer could persuade them to refund my ticket. Bastards.)
On a slightly more serious mischief front, I've often wondered what I'd do if I got pulled over for speeding. There's every chance I will, given the insufficient time I leave myself to get to the hospital every morning (who am I kidding – the insufficient time I leave myself to get anywhere). And there's no doubt about it – with no cleavage card to my disposal, hell yeah, I'd dig deep for the cancer cop-out. And I'd be willing to wager that you'd do the same. (Ooh, this'd be a corking topic for Who Me?, wouldn't it? Anyone remember that programme? It was one of those typically 1980s, made-for-schools shows that made you question your moral integrity while your teacher read the newspaper for half an hour. I can't find it on t'internet though –someone please tell me I haven't dreamt it.)
Think of me what you will, but I reckon I've paid my dues. I've served my time, done the stretch of torturous treatment and got The Bullshit on my permanent record. I've earned it – that card is mine to play. Cancer doesn't exactly come with benefits. Your consultant doesn't set the ball rolling with, 'Well, I'm afraid you've got cancer. But hey, at least the Sainsbury's delivery man will carry your groceries through to the kitchen.' And while nothing about using your illness-induced trump card makes you feel good, isn't it worse to miss the opportunity? I've done nothing but kick myself about KFC-gate and not fronting up to my neighbour on bonfire night and, when reliving those moments in my head, not once do I wuss out like I did at the time.
P's not so quick to play the cancer card. Not that he hasn't thought about it, mind. Some lass pissed him off last week with vocal, reasonless whingeing about the weather or her waistline or a bad hair day or somesuch, and he told me how much he'd wanted to grab her by the neck and say, 'Shut the fuck up, woman. Do you know what I've been going through?' When something like cancer muscles in on your life, you don't half find yourself low on patience for other people's dubious gripes (especially those on TV – Celebrity Big Brother housemates, this means you). So I'd even go so far as to say that I think it's okay for someone to play the cancer card on your behalf. (Within reason, like – I don't want you to go missing a deadline tomorrow and blaming it on me.) Having cancelled two holidays and countless other days out last year because of me, my folks booked themselves a well-deserved, pre-Christmas long weekend abroad. At check-in, they could see that the flight had been overbooked and the attendant was busy bumping people off the plane. 'What will we do if they try to stop us getting on?,' asked Mum. 'That woman will hear exactly what kind of year I've had,' replied my old man. And good on him.
Don't get me wrong – I and everyone around me will, of course, be mightily relieved when such a time comes that we don't have a cancer card to play. And no amount of headscarf-wearing benefits can trump having my hair back, so I'm hardly going to keep up a cancer pretence just to get off the odd parking fine. I'm perfectly prepared – nay, happy – to go back to the dish-washing, litter-tray-scooping, standing-on-the-tube ways of the healthy public. (And frankly, cancer's in danger of making me an even lazier sod than I am already.)
While it's certainly more black than comedy, I do hope this blog goes to show that alongside The Bullshit's oceans of crap lies a small island of dark humour. And, as long as there are tentative laughs to be had and mischief to be made, I'm happy to lay my cancer cards on the table and get in on the action. Wouldn't you?