Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wheeler and Cancer Card Dealer

When I was 12 I went on a trip to Long Island with my dad. During the 10 hour drive I counted how many people he passed: a grand total of 2. They were either blind, pushing 100 years old, or both. When he’s driving on one of our local one-lane roads and being tailgated, he’ll slow down to as little as half the speed limit until the car backs off. When I was 15 and had my learner’s permit, my dad wouldn’t let me drive any faster than 5 under the limit. “And no radio or waving,” he instructed. “If I see you wave at anyone then we go home.” My neighborhood friends thought I was an asshole when I wouldn’t wave back.

I quickly made up for this slow start during my first few years with a driver’s license – in three years I was passed by six cars, at most. It wasn’t uncommon for me to roar past other drivers going 30-40 miles per hour faster. On average I drove 20+ over the limit, or what the police call “reckless driving.” I never tailgated or cut anyone off, but I did drive by my own theory of constant acceleration: as long as there was open road in front of me, I was going to go faster.

Why so fast? I don’t know. Maybe it was the excitement and adrenaline rush. Maybe I liked being the only one of my friends that had the balls to do it. Or, maybe I liked doing something illegal for the first time in my life.

It would be natural for you to assume my behavior changed when I got cancer. What moron would fight for his life against cancer, and then immediately risk his life on the road? But I didn’t see it that way, perhaps because I was just 16 years old. I didn’t see cancer as a fight for my life. I saw it as a collection of mutated cells growing in my hip that had to be killed and removed through a complex regimen of drugs, needles, blood transfusions and checkups. I also didn’t see driving fast as risky. In fact, my dad was an excellent driving instructor and prepared me to be an instinctive defensive driver. If I considered the situation dangerous then I immediately slowed down. I also have catlike reflexes.

But, one thing did change when I got cancer – now I had an excuse for going crazy fast if I got caught by the police.

First, let me say that I limited my use of the cancer card. I never used it as a way to complain, bring other people down with me, or generate pity. FUCK THAT. But on some occasions, mostly just when it got me out of trouble or paying money, I pulled it.

I spent considerable time crafting the perfect excuse in case I got pulled over. I didn’t need to prove that I had cancer because it was completely obvious – I didn’t have a single hair on my body, I was white as a ghost, I had a bulge protruding out of my chest (my central line, or port), and for part of the year I had crutches in the back and a huge brace on my leg. My excuse only lacked something an officer could relate to and understand.

My first plan was to pretend I needed to take my Zofran for nausea: “I’m about to blow and my medicine is at home. And I’m not talking about normal puke – I mean one of those fire hydrant vomits.” I decided this wasn’t clever enough. I needed something more genius if I was going to tangle with the law.

My next plan involved a needle and a $200 vile of medicine: “I need to get my Neupogen shot in order to stimulate my bone marrow. You know, to boost my white blood cells? The little things that fight infection?” Too bad any officer would have zoned out at the first mention of spiffy cancer terms.

My third excuse, however, was just right: “I’m in between cycles of chemotherapy. All of my blood cells have been wiped out from the chemo, leaving my immune system virtually nonexistent. That’s not so bad, but now I’m starting to get a fever. Without an immune system my body has no way to fight infection and really bad things can happen. I have to call my doctor immediately and rush over to the hospital before…it’s too late.

I never had the chance to try it out, but I really think that plan would’ve worked. That was an excuse for the ages and needs to be passed on to other cancer people. My duty is now complete.

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Postscript: If you have a problem with the message conveyed here – namely, me using cancer to my benefit – my only justification is that I was having a little fun. Life is better that way.

What if my gift to the world was tricks cancer people can use to gain an advantage? I’m strangely okay with that.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

When it comes to talking your way out of receiving a speeding ticket (or into receiving an attractive woman's phone number), all cards are legal tender, even cancer. Especially cancer in fact. States ought to issue special license plates that let folks who have just spent a month cooped up in a hospital room getting daily hits of radiation and chemo blow off some steam by doing 90 on a clear freeway.
~Sam Bruce

delect said...

Whatever man, play the cancer card all day every day... live it up.