Thursday, January 17, 2008

Again (Part III of III)

Read these first:
Again (Part I of III)
Again (Part II of III)

Back at home in the beginning of March, I had as few responsibilities as during grade school summers. I didn’t have schoolwork or need to plan nighttime activities because my friends were mostly away at college. I didn’t have the pressure of hitting on girls or the associated rejection. I just needed to entertain myself and get blood counts and transfusions, and hope a bone marrow donor was found so I could continue surviving. I was actually at peace more than any other point in my life.

All the snow helped. Virginia saw two large snowstorms while I was still at school and another 20-incher when I got home. There is something about those oddly shaped flakes falling from the sky and the white landscape that makes me feel lively.

The transfusions kept my hemoglobin and platelet levels sufficient, and I had no other side effects. I didn’t feel sick, tired or weak. My clinic appointments felt like friendly pop-ins instead of treatment. I joked with my doctors and nurses as if they were my buddies. I mostly ignored the other patients who were probably jealous of how normal I looked.

Johns Hopkins, one of the best health systems in the world, diagnosed my disease. My parents, brother and I met with the doctor to discuss the disease and treatment options. When I asked for a prognosis, he stated there was a 30% universal chance of survival.

30% chance of living. 70% chance of dying.

My brother and I later discussed what he said. Many elderly people develop that disease, so we bumped my survival chance up to 50%. And since I was Superman, that number jumped to 80%. And an 80% chance of survival for a normal person meant an almost 100% chance for me. In a flash my 30% chance of survival became nearly 100%.

Call me ludicrous, idiotic or even psychotic if you’d like, but I didn't feel that statistics applied to me. As long as my chance of survival was more than 0%, in my mind I was going to live.

I can understand why some athletes think they’re invincible, and may not even be aware of their arrogance. They know just as I knew. But it was that arrogance that made me believe I’d survive, which then helped me to actually survive. It’s during those potentially discouraging times that I wouldn’t give up my Superman complex for all the friends, girls, money and success in the world.

We went to ESPN Zone in Baltimore for dinner. We arrived just in time to see my two favorite sports shows, Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption. We sat in a circular booth in view of the projection screen. I switched between looking at the huge screen and the smaller LCD attached to our table.

I ordered the chicken cheese steak and fries, the same as my brother. It was one of my life's most enjoyable meals. I was thrilled about my upcoming journey, knowing it would be challenging but also successful. I was so happy to have such a “high” chance of survival.

Was I nuts? Yes. But I’m as proud of that 19-year-old Ben as any other. I challenge myself and anyone else to manipulate such horrible news. I doubt I could duplicate that now.

I didn’t want my peaceful world to change, and when my mom told me a match was found, I was kind of sad. I was also scared.

Baltimore Orioles 2003 blizzard home openerSeveral days before departing for my transplant, I attended the Baltimore Orioles Opening Day game with my dad, brother and Uncle Joker. There was a blizzard during the baseball game—what a sight. Uncle Joker lent me his Gortex gloves, though he left early and I never returned them. “I stole Uncle Joker’s gloves,” I joke with my dad. That was the last time I saw my uncle before my transplant.

Benjamin Rubenstein and family at Baltimore Orioles 2003 Opening Day blizzard game
From left: JD, me (in my favorite blue hat), my dad, Uncle Joker
I saw many of my friends for the last time at a going away party at Bubble’s house. Several friends showed up, including most from UVA, T2theZ who drove all the way from Virginia Tech just for the party, and a couple lovelies, Orange and Red. Much love to those who came; I’ll never forget it.

Many of my friends didn’t show up, including some of my closest ones. If they knew I was given a 70% chance of dying then maybe they’d have come running.

The following day more friends hung out to watch the NCAA Final Four. Dirty-D was reluctant to leave when the games were over. Maybe he understood what a 30% chance meant more than I did.

Two days later, my peaceful world ended. I left my house for a four-month journey of a lifetime.

Continue reading "My Cancer Story": Fix Me (Part I of IV)


Nina said...

Just found your blog - great stuff. Stop by my friend LAS's blog if you are so inclined. She is waiting for test results for breast cancer. Completely unfun stuff.

Glad to have found you. I will be back!