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?


Unknown said...

I lost my beloved 46-year-old husband to cancer last year, and I have played the cancer card to telemarketers, even though I don't have it. Remarkably, when one person called and asked for Jeff, and I broke into tears and said he had passed, they immediately started pitching ME. Finally I said, "Don't you understand that I can't talk to you now?" and hung up. And I did't feel guilty for a second.

Anonymous said...

You definitely get a pass on this one. There is something of a con in streethawkers' and telemarketers' pitch, perhaps not always, but often enough that we have a gut mistrust of them. This sounds unsympathetic, but there are a lot of low paying jobs these days and they don't all involve an in your face sales pitch. So the person who accosts you on the street may have a choice of jobs, just as you had a choice. Yes, sometimes there's no other choice due to circumstances we cannot know, and that is when we might want to give the benefit of doubt. But if you're not interested you don't have to listen and you don't have to be polite about it. Think about street musicians...they don't usually ask for money, they leave the guitar case open or an upside down cap to collect donations. Streethawkers could do the same and just stand on a corner with their brochures visible, but of course that probably would not yield as many prospects. It seems like this method of sales may have worked better decades ago.
This doesn't answer the question who does stop to talk to a streethawker on the street. said...

Cancer card? How about the simple human decency card? I don't think anyone has a right to cross into my conversational space whether in person or on the telephone, without my agreement and participation. Maybe I am hard-hearted.

However, I've heard telemarketers say you do them a favor by not taking up their time if you're not going to buy or contribute or do whatever they want.

Anonymous said...

What would you have said if you didn't have cancer? For me, that's the measure of your patience with people like this. The fact that you said anything shows that you have sympathy for the person selling. Then you called L in order to relieve your anxiety. Good for you. If she had approached you on your return or the next day, what would you have said? I'm never quick-witted enough nor angry enough to say anything. Later I tell my wife all the witty, usually mean things I would have said. Keep on commenting. Roger/Rusty