Simon Chaitowitz

Some clouds have some surprisingly useful silver linings. Cancer, for example.

No, I’m not one of those cheery and “oh so brave” sick people who thinks that cancer made me a better person or helped me find my true self. I hate cancer. I’m pissed I got it the first time and even more mad I got it a second time (an unfortunate little side effect of treatment from the first one).

So no, I’m not into pretending that cancer isn’t horrible. But the Big C does have one little perk that doesn’t get publicized much. And I’d like to make sure that no cancer “survivors” guilt-trip themselves out of using it. (Like yours truly, until recently.)

What I’m talking about is taking advantage of any possible opportunity you have to do what you want and not do what you don’t want. For example, if you’re immune suppressed, the doctors tell you to quit cleaning litter boxes, changing diapers, taking out the garbage, or weeding gardens (yes, yes, yes, and yes!) but there are tons more Get Out of Jail Free Cards just waiting to be picked up.

In other words, don’t feel shy about using cancer to your own ends — whether that’s making your life better, furthering your cause, or just helping yourself get through the day. I call it Playing the Cancer Card. Kristin Boles, a cancer listserv mate, says she and herhusband call it the Fringe Benefits of Cancer.

Here are just a few examples. All are either based on my experiences or those of other cancer survivors:

* Get out of a parking ticket. Write a nice letter to the city explaining how you were rushing to your CANCER appointment when you noticed the meter you chose wasn’t working. Voila! Fee waived.

* Talk your way into meetings with secretaries of state and the prime minister. Adrian Sudbury, an advocate for bone marrow donation inEngland, says his disease regularly opens doors for him. Brilliant.

* Skip long, boring events. No need to feel obligated to attend that dreaded yearly family reunion if you don’t enjoy it. You need your rest, after all. But if you find yourself at the event, and just can’t take it anymore, no worries. No one will take your departure personally.

* Get discounts at nice hotels. No kidding. The last time I went out of town for a check-up, I found out that one of my favorite hotels offered a 20 percent discount to guests visiting the nearby clinics. Easier to justify luxury with that kind of savings.

* See your words in print. If there’s one phrase that virtually guarantees you’ll make it onto the Letters to the Editor page, it’s “As a cancer survivor, I feel … .” Nearly every letter I’ve started like that has been published. The Letters page is a great place to share your ideas about doctors, the pharmaceutical industry, or anything else related to cancer.  (Of course, if you’re already famous, you can probably use cancer to get yourself on Larry King.)

Those of us who are immune-suppressed have even more built-in excuses. One woman just told me she talked her way into the use of an indoor bathroom at a summer festival where everyone else had to use the portable toilets. Two points for creativity and boldness! (Disclosure: I’m still sometimes too chicken to ask to be the first on the buffet line.)

Those of us who are genetically disposed to guilt complexes may have an extra hard time following this advice. But trust me.

When life hands you cancer, this is your chance to eat dessert first, stop shaving your legs, switch to part-time work, or get out of jury duty. Whatever you want, whenever you want it. Go for it.

Simon ChaitowitzSimon Chaitowitz was a writer and two-time cancer survivor living and working in Washington, D.C. As much as she disliked the word “survivor,” she admitted it could be useful.  Simon passed away in 2009, less than one year after contributing this story to Dare to be Fabulous. She died from a blood disorder caused by the treatment she underwent for breast cancer.

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  1. So sorry to hear of Simon’s death. She worked tirelessly for the progress of scientific research by promoting alternatives to animal testing. She will be missed by humans and animals alike.

  2. Great stuff!