Many calendars co-exist in our society–religious, liturgical, even academic calendars, intertwine with our Western Gregorian calendar. Since I got the keys to my timeshare in CancerLand, time has passed differently. Until I got served with my diagnosis, my whole life has been driven by the Holy academic calendar, which makes sense, since Academia is where I hung out. The year begins in September and ends in May, is divided into four semesters and built by chapters, units, quizzes, exams, and finals. One hour is fifty minutes, and three tardies equal an absence. So it has been for hundreds of years.
But now, since I got my lifetime pass to CancerLand, I am forced to use different markers to indicate the passage of time. Instead of ‘tenure,’ the discussion for those with real estate in CancerLand is ‘prognosis.’ ‘Annual Reviews’ are known as ‘cancerversaries’, and just as everyone in Academia knows their hire date (or knows its importance), EVERYONE in CancerLand knows their cancerversary. Without that date, none of the other life cycle activities can take place. Little things are applauded in CancerLand–like surviving surgery or finishing treatment. But these are things people with cancer really had no control over–‘Yay! You chose the right surgeon and she removed your breast tissue before the cancer could become metastatic! All right! What a fighter you are!,– so outsiders might find these acts strange causes for celebration, and, admittedly, when I first arrived here in CancerLand, I found them outside my frame of reference. In Academia, we celebrate someone’s diligence, hard work and academic prowess when an important book or article is published or tenure is granted. But in CancerLand, all you have to do is have the right genetic mutation and you are immediately granted membership, lauded as a ‘survivor,’ and given lovely gifts! Way to go! What luck! You won the CancerLand Lotto!
The chronemic marker I find the most troublesome is, as I’ve blogged about before, The Holy Month of Pinktober and all the little Pinktoberfests that are held during this sacred time. Even the most morally bankrupt woman is Saintly during Pinktober if she had Breast Cancer, because she didn’t just ‘have’ Breast Cancer, she ‘fought’ or ‘battled’ or ‘charged against’ the disease. She is held up on a throne for the thronging crowds to see–“Look! Look at this woman! She had Breast Cancer but BATTLED AGAINST the disease and is now cancer-free! Who cares if she was a nasty ho before, she is a SURVIVOR” Huzzah!
Missing from the merry Pinktoberfest celebrations are discussions of an important chronemic marker–expiration dates (thanks, Dr. Bring Down). Sadly, even if women do self-checks every month and get mammograms every year, not everyone catches Breast Cancer early enough. Some people with real estate in CancerLand die from the disease even though they did everything they were supposed to, including feeling themselves up in the shower and getting mammograms to guilt-buying (you know, buying it because someone made you feel bad for thinking you’d save that extra dollar for yourself) pink flip flops in celebration of The Holy Month of Pinktober.
The problem I have is not with Pinktober celebrations–heck, I like a good party, especially if I get free stuff! No, the problem I have is with the hangover November brings. Breast Cancer is a disease, not a fun-run-pink-ribbon celebration that can be put away like holiday decorations and taken out once a year. When it comes to doing time in CancerLand, you don’t have to be smart or sexy to get a timeshare, you just have to be. People who have or had Breast Cancer are not special because they were touched by a disease–they are special in spite of it.