Monday, June 22, 2015

I Remember Rachel for Her Ferocity for Life, Not Cancer

I first wrote about my amazing friend Rachel "Lings" Yingling three years ago, and today likely won't be the last time. She was among the best and my favorite people I have met. Besides her inexplicably odd-shaped feet which she didn't mind showing off, we could all benefit from acquiring her characteristics: passionate, positive, resilient, adventurous, alive. Fiercely alive.

This is for Rachel.

As published on The Huffington Post

Rachel Yingling sitting against rock in West Virginia in October 2014
The skeet whooshed towards the heavens. My right eye stared ahead with the barrel flush. I had developed a rhythm with the saucer: After it launched I waited until it reached a precise point in my field of vision and then I pulled the trigger. Without patience, my aim would be low and the saucer would continue its original trajectory until it fell to the ground. So I waited and then, click, the target erupted, its orange pieces blending with the sky like a perfect match on the color wheel.

I hit 11 of 25 skeets. My friend Rachel, who I'm sure shot guns growing up based on my generalization of people from Arkansas and who say things like, "My drinking water had tadpoles," only shot two. She hit her first, missed the next 23, and ended with a bang. Rachel sat against a rock and watched others in our group shoot. She smiled and now said things like, "I have not spent time outside in days. It is beautiful."

There was not a cloud above us and Rachel, a Fulbright scholar, began telling me a story about the sky. If people had never been told the sky was blue then they may see it as white, another color, or simply a void. Those people may have as much trouble wrapping their heads around the blue sky as I have around not seeing it as blue.

I can't see Rachel in a different light, either. When I met her 2.5 years ago I saw a radiant and beautiful 27-year-old whose attitude matched her use of exclamation points. She told me stories back then, too, like the meaning of interrobang, which is a combination of an exclamation point and a question mark, and how she was diagnosed at 26 with stage 3 colon cancer that would later spread to her ovaries and omentum, "upgrading" the cancer to stage 4. Rachel would stay on treatment forever, in a concept that is new to me and the way I had "finished" cancer treatment when I was a teen: Rachel was living with cancer. Keep reading I Remember Rachel for Her Ferocity for Life, Not Cancer.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Biggest, Baddest, Raddest Wedding: My Bro Got Married

I didn’t dance with that pretty girl nearly enough. I missed seeing the bouquet toss, cake cutting, mother-son and father-daughter dances, and my dad hopping on the drums to “Sweet Caroline.”

I accept all these failings because NoCommonSense and I crushed our best men speech that included Hulk Hogan’s theme song.

I have spoken many times to audiences as large as a few hundred about cancer stealing my physical abilities and chunks of my adolescence. Unlike those speeches, the attempted humor-to-sentiment ratio for our best men speech was a whopping 95 to 5 percent. And unlike all those others, this best men speech weighed on me for days because I had thought I might cry, a terrifying and previously unfathomable possibility.

Thankfully adrenaline ensured I didn’t. I was so relieved when we finished our speech. I said, “Shots!” and a few of us left the banquet room for the bar in the lobby. The bartender said she wasn’t allowed to serve shots.

“But we’re the best men!” I said.

I dont give a fuuuck, I saw her thinking.

We settled with drinks on the rocks.

My relief that we gave a good speech and that I didn’t mewl led to me mostly staying in the lobby for the next three hours of the biggest, baddest and raddest wedding I’ve ever attended. That’s why I missed seeing most of the traditional wedding activities.

JD and I grew up playing the same sports, listening to the same music, and enjoying the same TV shows and movies. Almost everything he enjoyed, I did, too, in part because I envied everything about my big brother and followed his lead.

There is some nature on top of all that nurture, though. Different people consider different types of foods their kryptonite, but for both of us it is candy and only candy. We are both organized and hyper-productive, often speeding through life in order to accomplish what we desire during our short waking hours. Lolo, my new sister-in-law, once noticed that we each stood holding our drinks in identical positions and had condensation spots on our shirts in identical places from where our glasses touched.

We are different in ways, too. He has always been more outgoing, quick on his feet and magnetic. I always had a sense that he was my big brother, no matter that as time goes on our three-year difference in age becomes a smaller percentage of the total. I look back to six years ago when we visited NoCommonSense in Hawaii. I am three years older than JD was then, yet it feels like the opposite. I look back further to my bone marrow transplant when JD was 22, and I still see him then as older than I am now.

We also differed in our ability to retain autobiographical memories. Until a few years ago, my memory was among my best assets. I could recall most every event and detail. I miss that ability, and blame its disappearance on the accumulation of memories, alcohol, restricting my calories (and energy for my brain), and especially cancer treatment.

Now I use tricks to recall and retain memories, which involve all the senses and not just sight and hearing. When I write about cancer treatment, I first think about how the big blue chemo chair felt to the touch. On my road trip last month I listened to the new Mumford & Sons album on repeat, and now when I hear “Believe,” visions of the Million Dollar Highway enter my mind.

I forgot to connect my brother's wedding to a feeling or song, but I know I’ll never forget how happy JD was. I’m one proud younger brother as my family is now greater. Lolo is also a Redskins fan. That doesn’t add to the greatness; rather, it was a requirement to begin with.

Mazel tov!

Couple getting introduced for first time at wedding at Fairmont Washington DC, Georgetown

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Road Trippin' from Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200: A Picture Story

Read this first: Remembering That One Memorable Trip

I miss the 11 a.m. tour of Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park by six minutes, resulting in possible catastrophe: after the noon tour, Garmin estimates I will reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset instead of with a time cushion. I roar down the two-lane US-160 West with its broken yellow center line, passing all the cars.

I stop for my afternoon coffee, a requirement for this addict. Garmin says I just lost five minutes. Now I pass cars that any other time I would consider too risky. My accelerator pedal lives on or near the floor. This rental Chrysler 200 was built to get me to one of the seven natural wonders of the world while it is still bright enough outside to see.

Then I cross into Arizona and the time changes because the state doesn't observe daylight savings time. Garmin can go ahead and steal a minute here and there because I just gained a virtual hour.

Grand Canyon: too spectacular for adjectives. In this moment I am certain that seeing this is life's purpose and this is why humans have sight and there is nothing else that matters.

Benjamin Rubenstein road trip to Grand Canyon National Park South Rim

*****
Months ago my friend Scooter invited me to rock climb with him in Durango, Colorado. Before booking my flights on Frontier, my next-door cubemate at work, Sharknel!, invited me over to see her Google Maps webpage. "Look at all these cool places near Durango! You could take a road trip!"

Sharknel! was and is always right. I listened.

I couldn't drive 1,400 miles and not take tons of photos and video from the car. It was only weird when I angled the camera diagonally—when I looked at the screen it appeared like Garmin and I were driving off the side of cliffs. So here are some of the best moments of my road trip, with me, a Chrysler 200, and many new albums for which I won't share how I acquired though Verizon sent me a letter if that helps you figure it out.


I got through a short tunnel on my way from Fort Collins to Vail and a snow-capped mountain greeted me. My heart just about sank down to my penis.
driving towards Vail, Coloardo

I couldn't drive the Million Dollar Highway from Telluride to Durango, with its breathtaking views and sheer cliffs, without stopping at one of the overlooks for the most scenic pee of my life.
driving on the snow-capped Million Dollar Highway in May from Telluride to Durango Colorado

One of so many vehicles that Garmin and I would pass on US-160 West.
Approaching Grand Canyon on US-160 West

I sat at the Canyon for an hour with my quadsteppers and the rat that I saw scurry by. The rat declined to race me to the bottom.
Benjamin Rubenstein wearing his lifted Keen sneakers at Grand Canyon

Instead of paying $38 to sleep near Zion National Park, I paid $200 to stay overnight in Page, Arizona, to first see Antelope Canyon. Warning to potential travelers: Antelope is just a 1.5-hour photo shoot and if you're not into photography, don't visit. Instead, just ask me for the photos of the super cool rock formation.
amazing rock formations caused by wind and water at Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Do not skip Zion National Park in Utah. It is one of my favorite places: vast and gorgeous like the Grand Canyon, user friendly and simple like a Nicolas Cage film. I completed the second most challenging hike which requires you to hold onto chains to prevent death, though next time I'll do the Angel's Landing trail that several have actually died trying to hike.
Approaching Zion National Park

I joined fellow hikers at Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, though I did not follow them up this currently dry waterfall. He who goes up must eventually come down.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

If you research and know ahead of time the few cities with high hotel costs and how to avoid them, and if you have a smartphone to book cheap accommodations on the fly, then road tripping out west can be less expensive than just about any other vacation. That part of our country is special and I had an amazing time exploring. I even recorded my first video on YouTube: The Road Trip Song: Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200. Hopefully Verizon doesn't send me another letter. Enjoy this video and stay tuned next year for The Road Trip Song: San Diego to Seattle in a Batmobile.

*****
Appearances
I'll be speaking at the Gala for Action on Saturday benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for the Man & Woman of the Year fundraising campaign.
Saturday, June 6, at 6 p.m.
Asia DC, 1720 I Street NW, Washington, DC
Tickets

Leia Mais…

Friday, May 15, 2015

Remembering That One Memorable Trip

Whenever I fly I recall my first trip to Minneapolis with my parents in March 2003 when I was 19 years old. My life was stalled, I had dropped out of college and cancer was rapidly invading my bone marrow. Though, physically I felt fine. I felt great. I loved that trip and I had life-or-death purpose, or maybe I loved it because I had life-or-death purpose.

We traveled across the country to spend a day at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and speak with Dr. Andre Million. It was one of the top children’s transplant centers and he was one of its rock star transplant oncologists. Minneapolis symbolized hope.

My mom and I teased my dad for his fear of flying. He stared out the window wondering why the wing was slightly bouncing. “That wing is flapping because it’s going to fall off!” he said. Mom and I introduced him to Benadryl after that. I smile thinking of his quizzical expression.

Right now I’m sitting in the airport to begin a ten-day vacation. I’m flying to Denver, renting a car and driving to Vegas, stopping all along the way. My smile has faded as I realize how much time has passed since that 2003 trip. Did I accomplish what my 19-year-old self envisioned?

Road trip itinerary from Denver to Las Vegas
Road trippin' from Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200
Let’s say one of my books became a bestseller, I accumulated enough wealth to never need to work, and I gave the University of Virginia commencement speech instead of Peyton Manning. Those pretend accomplishments may actually be in descending order of likelihood: lots of books become bestsellers, far fewer earn their authors enormous wealth, and you have to be a sorcerer to overtop Manning for anything.

But none of those would have been as meaningful as searching for the transplant center we hoped would save me. It did. Minneapolis now symbolizes a clean slate, my cleanser, and my ultimate achievement.

I remind myself every day how fortunate I am. I must never forget: the Holocaust, what it is like to suffer with cancer, and what it is like to live with the clarity of life-or-death purpose. I ache for that purpose which is a losing battle. I never want to experience significant illness again, but without it I cannot experience that same purpose.

This vacation has a less meaningful purpose, of course. I just want to see the world and connect with people—some new people, and some old friends. Snooki and I will debate kale versus holy water in Vail. Colossus and I will catch up on the last decade while getting rich on Vegas blackjack tables. And Scooter and I will climb rocks in Durango.

It would take a lot more than Bendaryl to convince my dad to climb mountains with us. Mom and Dad can sit this one out.

Keep reading: Road Trippin' from Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200: A Picture Story

Leia Mais…

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Join Me Again in Lighting Blood Cancer on Fire

Read the short story below, or skip it and immediately donate to LLS through my Circle of Hope page here.

Benjamin Rubenstein 2014 LLS Man & Woman of the Year candidate
“I read about this cancer-slayer . . .” the emcee said at last year’s Man & Woman of the Year Grand Finale Gala before announcing that I won an award for having dedicated myself to fighting blood cancers. I was a Man & Woman of the Year candidate and my CancerSlayer fundraising team raised over $50,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Campaigning was exhilarating, rewarding and, I thought, my one chance to give back. It also required a time commitment akin to a second job, which is why I’ll likely never do it again.

Just like Kristen Stewart after cheating on that dude from Twilight, I have a second chance.

I love LLS and its mission and passionate supporters, so I joined its leadership team. I mentor a wonderful and upbeat fellow survivor as she campaigns for this year’s Man & Woman of the Year. I also raise money for the Leadership Team Circle of Hope.

As a whole leadership team we are trying to raise $100,000. I will not sit at a diner table until my computer battery dies like last year and text, Facebook-message, and email friends asking for donations. I will not put $6,000 on the line, determined to reach my fundraising target no matter what.

I am asking if you’ll help me fight blood cancers. I’m not asking out of desire for personal recognition or a title. I just want to fight fire with fire and you can help us build one gigantic match. Watch this four-minute video with LLS-funded researcher Carl June to see what that match can do.

Together let’s light cancer’s ass up by donating to the Leadership Team Circle of Hope.
Thank you.
-The Cancerslayer

Leia Mais…