Tuesday, April 3, 2007

newspaper article: I've Still Got Both My Nuts

This is an article I wrote for my school newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, which printed today. Notice the shameless self-promotion.

I've still got both my nuts
A true cancer blog

Benjamin Rubenstein, Cavalier Daily Perspective

When I was first diagnosed with cancer my junior year of high school, I never thought I would write about it. Take your licks and move on, I thought to myself. Some scars, a limp and a year later, that's exactly what I did -- I moved on.

I joined the Key Club just like everyone else to boost my college resume (I only attended one meeting). I was elected parliamentarian of both Chess Club and "It's Academic," even though I still don't know what that word means. Sadly, my chess record by the end of the year was 0-19 and I failed to correctly answer a single question in "It's Academic" competitions. I wanted to be president of Quill & Scroll but didn't even show up to the election. Instead, I signed a paper that read, "Ben Rubenstein is running for president," and gave it to another member. "Make sure they know I'm running," I told her. "And make sure I win."

Regrettably, for some convoluted reason I felt it was necessary to leave my fellow cancer patients in my past along with my mutated cells. I didn't even attempt to keep in touch with them. I didn't know my friend's cancer had returned until he was almost dead.

Fast forward a year to my first year of college. I was accepted into U.Va. "by default," as I always say. This was back in the good old days when O-Hill sucked. It even used to tease us by serving its best dish, chicken parmigiana, once every few weeks. Matt Schaub and Billy McMullen were still bringing the house down, while Pete Gillen was still sweating profusely.

Enter cancer number two.

I'm a little older and a little wiser. Before beginning treatment, I'm given a diary with the specific instructions: "You could write in it and then make it into a book someday." Apparently, I wasn't wise enough, because I threw the diary in the trash. Take your licks and move on, I thought to myself.

Several more scars and a year later, I moved on by getting my first summer job, working at Hollywood Video. I originally applied to Blockbuster, but apparently I wasn't qualified because my application was, for some reason, "red-flagged." I did it not for the money, or for the job experience, but for the free movie rentals.

My fellow employee and I at Hollywood Video used to have races to see who could remove 20 DVD security locks faster. There was no question that I had far superior skills, but when it came time for the race, I got nervous and lost my touch. After he beat me for the third time, I gave him the candy money he earned. "I'm done racing, you always beat me."

One night at work that July, I was clobbered by a powerful idea -- the same idea that was suggested to me one year earlier. I should write a book.

First I wondered whether my experiences were deserving of a book. Surely, beating cancer three times was, but I wasn't too thrilled about that idea. Surviving it twice before the age of 20 sounded pretty worthy.

Second, I thought about my aversion to books. I read on average one book a year. Why would I write one when I don't even like reading?

Third, I thought about my aversion to documenting cancer experiences. Everybody has had cancer and everybody writes about it. Plus, writers aren't very cool.

But man, was my idea strong. It pulsed through my brain until I could no longer ignore it. You don't have to know how to read to write a book, do you?

And I was never very cool to begin with.

It was decided. That night when I got home, I wrote the worst 500 words ever put on paper. No matter how it turned out, I knew I wanted to keep it real. I titled it "I've Still Got Both My Nuts: A True Cancer Story" for three reasons:

1) I do, in fact, still have both my testicles.

2) It sounded funny in my head.

3) I wanted to playfully knock on Lance Armstrong, who no longer has both of his. That is the only thing I have on cancer's poster boy.

My first move was to hire my friend to be my editor for $0. "If I make $10 million then I'll give you $1 million," I told her.

"Deal," she said.

Between slacking on schoolwork and watching sports, I managed to finish my 144,000-word memoir. I then gave it to my friend, who edited and refined the heck out of it. The final product was a 400-page manuscript the two of us were very proud of.

To my amazement, professional editors liked it as well. Some even wanted to buy and publish it. But in the end, none of them would take a risk on a young, unknown writer of a book focused on cancer, which normally only sells for celebrities. You won't see me quit though, especially when it comes to my book, which may be the most important thing I'll ever do.

The next step was to start a blog and build a name for myself. Once I become famous I may get a book deal -- that's what they say. And with over 55 million blogs, how hard could that be?

My friend and I debated how many Web site hits I need to be considered famous. He said somewhere in the five digits and I said somewhere in the sevens. I still don't know.

The night I posted my first entry, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007, the combination of fear and excitement left me feeling restless. While walking around campus the following day, I was nervous. Do these other students know about the blog? Do they know I had cancer twice?

The answer was a decisive no, since my blog is still in the four-digit hit range. And I'm pretty sure I'm not famous ... yet.

But I do have some loyal fans who seem to think fame is on the way. I hope they're right. So does my friend, who -- whether she admits it or not -- still wants to cash in on her $1 million.

Now you must ask yourself if you'd like to meet fame before it begins. Perhaps a young Keanu Reeves before "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," or Jared before the Subway diet?

If the answer is yes, then come read about my adventures at my Web site, "I've Still Got Both My Nuts: A True Cancer Blog."


Anonymous said...

did you include the URL? I didn't see it in the online version of the article.

P said...

I can relate to your aversion to books, that being said, I will purchase this book as soon as it is released! Your core demographic may be those averse to reading. lol

Anonymous said...

me and my uncle also made the cavalier daily.



patty said...

I propose an anthology!! We could be co-editors? ;) Is there more money in that... maybe?