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Did You Bring Your Cancer Card?

Tamara was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia on a perfectly ordinary Thursday in June, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was 31, in the best shape of my life (so far), and no one including her could have or would have expected me to be sick.

So how, you might ask, did I come to be sitting on a piece of crinkly paper in an oncologist office? The answer is (mostly) arrogance, mixed with a little curiosity, and topped with a bit of “Well, I guess I’m an adulty-adult now – should probably see about that cholesterol.”

I had just recently graduated from law school and begun my first job as an attorney and purchased my first house. Lucky for me, I decided to put that oh-so-awesome health insurance to good use and get my blood work checked – you know, just ‘cause. Turns out, my WBC was about 26x higher than normal and my platelets were high enough for the doctor to call in anti-clotting medications – and to refer me the same day to an oncologist-hematologist. Talk about ripping off a band-aid!

Just a day and a half later, it was a balmy July day in Cincinnati, Ohio – perfect weather, in fact. Not too hot, humidity not at 100 percent (which is rare for a Cincinnati summer), and my best friend and I were headed to a professional soccer game. Neither of us are avid soccer fans, but we had free tickets in really good seats – and these games are fun. Cincinnati sports are no joke – and FCC “Football Club Cincinnati” is no exception. We donned some orange and blue, and headed out.

She had come because she knew I needed her – that’s what friends are for. I was still getting a handle on what this whole diagnosis thing was all about – despite taking weirdly colored medications with alarming directions – I still basically felt fine.

Yeah, that weird inability to take a deep breath for several months finally had a name (enlarged spleen – oops, don’t take any hard hits to the side), and yeah, the long naps and ability to sleep any time, any place, at the drop of a hat also had a name (fatigue) and yeah, turns out just having inadequate AC in my historic home wasn’t the reason I was waking up drenched in sweat (night sweats – they’re a real thing). But still, I’d been functioning this way for months on end without even realizing they were a thing, and now I have cancer?!

Too weird.

So I did what anyone would do – I told almost no one and the people I did tell, I completely downplayed it. I talked about “the cancer card” – and how you know, if bad situations did arise, I could just casually throw in a line about my cancer, and the bad situation might just work itself out. You know -- like getting a cruise ship cabin upgrade, things like that.

So there we were, looking for a parking garage to park for the FCC game. Parking near the University of Cincinnati is not for the faint of heart – but we drove around in circles enough that finally, I gave in and drove up to the one of the sketchier garages. My friend – not as used to urban living as me – twisted nervously in the seat. “Are you sure this is OK?” I glanced left and right, and seeing no obvious serial killers, no sawed-off pistols, and no uncapped syringes, said, “Sure, why not?” (spoiler alert: it was, in fact, fine).

We parked, grabbed our purses, and headed to the exit. As we were heading towards the stadium, Crystal glanced back one more time, and said, “But what if we come back and we can’t get the car out, do you think you can use the Cancer Card?”

Laughing, I said, “Of course! It’s like a Black Card – good anywhere.”

She looked so relieved, and then immediately, a little worried, said, “But did you remember to bring it???” 

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