The Cancer Card

Today I used the cancer card. It was the second time. The first was when a telemarketer called in the morning (!) and I said, I'm going to have breast cancer surgery and I'm on the do-not call list and I hung up. The second time was this afternoon. Using the card is apparently a big issue in breast-cancer circles. In Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, Miriam Engelberg says her support group discussed whether it was ethical to use cancer to get rid of a telemarketer. (Yes and no.) In Cancer Vixen, Marisa Acocella Marchetto devotes a page to The Cancer Card--"When you carry the cancer card, it gets you out of dinners, lunches, breakfasts, brunches, social obligations, family functions, concerts, shows, sporting events, parties, movies and more!" Today I was walking from the subway to Fancy Hospital to get my heart scanned to see if it could withstand chemo. I was on the corner of a large shopping street when a young woman approached me. She had on a cross, so I immediately assumed she was an evangelist. But her first question was, Do you live here? Usually I pass up street hawkers but I was curious. Yes, I told her. Then she said, Can I talk to you about your hair? I said, I'm going to have chemo and lose all my hair. Oh, she said, falling back.

I felt so guilty I called L immediately on my cell. He said that no one has a right to accost me on the street, that whatever she got in return was fair. You didn't invite her to talk to you, he said. Later tonight he said, People don't have an inalienable right to sell things.

Yep, that's true, but it's also true that telemarketers and street hawkers are low paid and so we should be nice to them. Am I saying that we should be mean to people who are high paid? What I mean is we should sympathize with these people who can't find any other jobs except those that involve harassing other people. I'm afraid I traumatized the hair-girl. But she was back in action about two hours later when I emerged from the hospital. I saw her on another corner, still approaching people, this time wearing sunglasses.

I'll bet by now she's already told 12 friends what I said and she'll dine out on my remark for years to come.

The real mystery is: Nobody I know listens to telemarketers, but their pitches must be successful or else companies wouldn't hire people to make the calls. Who are the people who pick up the phone and say, Yes, yes, tell me more?