Friday, September 30, 2011


I was totally smitten over a girl who did not see me the same way. I’ve been accustomed to the amusing, self-deprecating sort of rejection, but this has weighed heavily and I have lost my swagger, my moxie, my arrogant cancerslayer aura. To get it back I must watch hundreds of hours of old wrestling footage of The Rock, and practice “The People’s Eyebrow” for even longer.

Although I suspect that method would work, as a galaxy-renowned author and motivational speaker I have too much pride to mimic a dude who wears tights. Instead, I will eliminate all visual body fat. Then, and only then, will I get my swag back.

I’ve been writing about this goal for far too long without accomplishing it. I apologize for that. But now I must succeed in order to feel like Ben-Jammin again. I’m spinning every morning while watching The Wire. My injured foot is healed enough to climb stairs. I plan to add a new weightlifting supplement beyond my usual egg protein, like nitric oxide or L-arginine. I will create a workout playlist with all of The Rock’s best lines.

And I’ll be hitting my punching bag, one of the best fat-burning activities I can perform. I assembled this myself earlier this year.

Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag

But now that I have added my own illustrations, I can really lay the smack down. I’m not claiming to be a galaxy-renowned illustrator, so I’ll help you out interpreting these fist-inducing pics:
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
Virginia Tech. Pure, unbridled hatred.
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
Dallas Cowboys. Ditto.
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
Salmon. Read my book.
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
No, not Arby's. Particulate respirator mask.
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
Biohazard symbol found on bags of chemotherapy.
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
My crutches I used to turn cool tricks on.
Drawings on an 80-pound heavy punching bag
A hanging bag of IV meds. Take your pick which kind, or make up your own, like an anti-tanning drug. That could lead to some serious power punches.

My 2011 New Year’s resolution was to better myself, to ring in Benjamin 2.0. I have re-upped that resolution on Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. I also resolve not to blog about this fitness goal again until the task is complete. If you smell what the Ben-Jammin is cookin’!

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Staring at the Edge of a 45

Over two weeks ago I was lifting weights. I was in the middle of my second superset: from T-bar row to that bent-elbow-lift-straight-up-with-arms-out-to-the-side shoulder exercise, with a 45-pound plate. I rested the plate on a flat bench, and tried to grip the edge. It slipped off the bench towards the ground, where my right foot was lying. I saw the next second in slow-motion, which now makes me question my intelligence since I did not move my foot.

The plate descended vertically, meaning when it landed it's full force would hit one spot as opposed to being spread out evenly across its diameter. The "spot" was the top of my foot just under my second toe. The subsequent sequence of events were as follows:

  1. Excruciating pain
  2. Breath hold
  3. Release of endorphins
  4. Adrenaline rush
  5. Throbbing pain
  6. Limp away
  7. Embarrassment since the accident was seen by females on the treadmills
  8. Bruise
  9. Swelling
  10. Inability to move foot much
  11. Assumed breakage
  12. Wondering how I'd get around since I could barely walk on my leg
  13. Take pictures

An X-ray revealed no breakage, and hopefully by October I'll have full movement in all my toes.

Postscript: Days later I was bench pressing without a spotter with one plate on each side. I did one too many reps and couldn't lift the bar to the hooks. I rested it on my chest and tried again, unsuccessfully. I tilted the bar to the side to dump the plates, but it didn't work. My sternum was getting sore. Two girls saw my struggle and asked if I needed help. I made some form of groaning noise, and they came over to lift the bar off my chest. I think they were the same girls as on the treadmills. I may have to move apartment buildings now, or get facial reconstructive surgery. I'm thinking Iggy Pop.
Scary Iggy Pop

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If You’re Having Girl Problems I Feel Bad For You Son

“Do you love her?” Hamburgers asked me, referring to my female companion, Sec-Z-Bec.

“Are you crazy?” I said. “I’ve only known her for three weeks. I don’t know, Hamburgers. I don’t even know what that means.”

Though his question would have never crossed my mind had I been in his shoes, I realized Hamburgers asked me for a reason—because it is a normal human curiosity. Is it also a normal human feeling after only spending time with a romantic interest for three weeks?

Hamburgers laughed at my inquiry into human nature. I kind of liked Sec-Z-Bec because she fit a set of requirements including physical attractiveness, humor, intelligence, and perceived interest in me. Love? C'mon, man.

One week later Hamburgers asked how things were going with Sec-Z-Bec. I laughed. “She’s starting to grow on me,” I said.

Sec-Z-Bec and I continued spending time with each other. And then, abruptly, she ended communication with me. I felt poorly, not because I loved her like crazy Hamburgers suggested, but because I thought I screwed something up. You see, I hate making mistakes—making the wrong purchase, ordering the wrong item at dinner, or saying the wrong thing. It is a selfish viewpoint: I just don’t want to regret my actions or inactions.

Sec-Z-Bec explained her flaky behavior, and assured me that it was nothing I did or didn’t do. I felt relieved. Communication and consuming calories together continued. And then, once again, Sec-Z-Bec distanced from me.

I am used to a sense of normalcy: the absence of pain, discomfort, fear and anxiety; and the presence of calm and content. Now for the second time I felt antsy, but this time was unrelated to regret, but rather a sense of loss.

Sec-Z-Bec inspired me. Because of her I now only drink unhealthy Coke Zeros on special occasions. I was always going to eliminate all visible body fat, but because of her I have accelerated my efforts. Above all, she inspired me to be more human. I have lost her, and not because of any fault of mine—she had internal issues that required resolution. My restlessness is because of this strange, human thing called sadness.

Friends used to whine to me about their girl problems. I could not understand what the big deal was because I hadn’t experienced what they were feeling. My friends prefaced their complaints with, “I know this is nothing compared to cancer, but…” I reminded them that everything in life is relative, and although I couldn’t relate to their pain and they couldn’t have related to mine, it was not my place to suggest mine was worse than theirs.

I get it, now. This pain has nothing to do with needle insertions or rehabilitation from cancer surgery. This is an entirely human pain. 2011 begins Benjamin 2.0: my ascension from superhuman (or inhuman) to human.

And so I will drown this pain like you might expect of me: by breaking the pedals off my spin bike and hitting my heavy bag with the force of a thousand men. I will not revert to destructive behavior like drinking alcohol. If I am tempted then I need only remind myself what Sec-Z-Bec has taught me.

Before receiving confirmation that my fling was over, I mentioned my troubles to my friend, TinyAppetite. I quoted the Jay-Z song “99 Problems” in which he raps: If you're havin' girl problems I feel bad for you son.

TinyAppetite shot back with a different Jay-Z rap: On to the next one.

“But I don’t want to move on to the next one,” I told TinyAppetite. “I really like this one.”

Well, Benjamin 2.0, maybe Jay-Z was right.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ten Years Cancer-Free

I enter the large, dark room, approach the table in the middle, and lie face-down. I bury my head in a pillow and close my eyes. I hear the nurse exit and close the door behind her. The door locks, and the “Radiation” sign illuminates.

I hear the machine turn on and move, get in position, and hover over me. I fidget to get comfortable one last time, and then I do not move. I focus on my breathing and I focus on my muscles not twitching. The energy about to exit the machine over the next ten minutes—the amount in about 180 CT scans—will burn my skin, which is already tomato-red from the previous 24 sessions I've had. It will blaze through my intestines, muscles, nerves, and now-dead bone. Most importantly it will annihilate the cancer cells that I believe have already been dead for 11 months. Dead from the first of 14 cycles of chemo. Dead because I felt them burning alive, a pain I will never forget and a pain I wish I hadn’t taken Tylenol to mask.

Minutes later, the machine stops making noise. I hear the nurse open the massive steel door and say that radiation is over. I follow her into the lobby. She says she will miss me, hugs me, and gives me a Hershey’s bar. I am confident that I will never receive another milliliter of chemotherapy. I will never again lie motionless in front of a machine that shoots waves of destructive energy through me. I will never again be termed a “cancer patient”; be seen as the Sick Kid; have another nurse say she will miss me.

It is Friday, September 14, 2001, at 3:40 p.m.. I am a bone cancer survivor, age 17.


Left untreated, the death rate for people diagnosed with cancer is surely between 90-100%. With treatment, the five-year death rate for people diagnosed with cancer is over 30%. Does any other disease approach this level of killing?

As a white male born in 1983, my life expectancy was 71.6 years old. I won’t try to calculate my new life expectancy after Ewing’s sarcoma age 16, 60-70% chance of five-year survival. Or myelodysplasia age 19, 30-50% chance of five-year survival.

But then again, 50 Cent wasn’t supposed to survive being shot nine times.

Today, the very minute this story publishes online, I have been cancer-free from Ewing’s sarcoma for ten years. What does that mean? Perhaps every single cancer cell was killed by the end of my second day of chemo, on September 29, 2000. And perhaps all the cells were surgically resected on January 10, 2001. So that makes September 14 the latest-possible survival date, the most true point in time if there ever was one. The truth I know—not the one based on the above statistics or actuary table or how many late effects I’m supposed to be living with—is that I am doing great.

The truth is that I also miss the suffering because what happened following the suffering is what most think of as “normal,” or the absence of pain and discomfort. But “normal” following the suffering was more like euphoria. But just as a person’s level of happiness after winning the lottery eventually reverts back to “normal,” my euphoria dissipated. For much of my survivorship I attempted to regain that euphoria, often resulting in me being stuck in my teenage past. I liken this to a professional athlete refusing to let go and retire.

I understand now that I can’t regain that euphoria like it’s a lost treasure. It was a benefit of cancer, and it’s gone, just like my tumor. To take things for granted and move on with life is to be human.

This past weekend my dad and I visited my grandparents’ graves in Long Island. They passed away before I had a memory. Before our short service, my dad updated them with the family’s health, beginning with me. It isn’t that he loves me more than my brother and mom. It’s just natural to start with the health of the two-time pediatric cancer survivor. This is how it will always be. I get it.

But as I strive to reach 6% body fat, function pain-free and almost never get sick, people I know live with AIDS, or chronic, relentless pain. Or live with the scars of sexual abuse, or the fear of developing bipolar disorder. Or live with a tumor that will forever require drugs to tame, or have died from cancer, or live with a colostomy bag.

I’m not suggesting I’m immune to another cancer. Clearly my confidence ten years ago didn’t prevent a second. The truth is nobody knows if and when they will develop cancer. I can play the odds and live my life in fear. Or I can be thankful that I’m doing so well, and that I’ve reached a decade of cancer freedom. Five years cancer-free is the milestone when the risk of cancer recurrence is low enough to use the word "cured." Ten years cancer-free is the milestone when I can now just celebrate the accomplishment; celebrate that I survived a murderous disease; celebrate life.

Leia Mais…

Monday, September 5, 2011

I Am a Cancer-Slaying Super Man: Part II

Read this first:
I Am a Cancer-Slaying Super Man

Author Benjamin Rubenstein has a book signing at Children's National Medical Center
J-Heavy walked into the art room where I was about to speak to child and teenage cancer patients, before signing copies of TWICE. J-Heavy’s face was sullen. The smile and excitement he displayed when I met him nine months ago were gone. One of his arms was gone, too—amputated, lost to cancer forever. In its place was the sleeve to his large button-down shirt, empty inside, just dangling.

I said how great it was to see him again. I asked how he was doing.


I asked how treatment was going.


If treatment was going smoothly then he’d be getting very close to the end. I asked if he would finish treatment soon.


J-Heavy’s treatment was not going as planned. This nineteen-year-old had idolized me when he began treatment; looked up to me as his superhero; wanted to mimic me, annihilate cancer like me, be me.

J-Heavy sniffled throughout my talk, and didn’t crack a smile. I was stunned, and didn’t know what to say, so I changed subjects and asked his thoughts on the upcoming Redskins season and whether he plays fantasy football.

Another late teenage patient, E., was engrossed in my story. E. was in a wheelchair and couldn’t see because of a brain tumor. The social worker would read my book to him. The cancer had returned, he told me, and there was no cure. I asked if he was in school.

“Not anymore.”

A very young girl asked if E. would go to college, like I had at the University of Virginia. I looked over at E., tongue-tied. “Maybe someday,” he said. I nodded and smiled at the girl.

I—a two-time pediatric cancer survivor who has suffered through many lifetimes worth of treatment—couldn’t relate to these two young men. They looked to me for answers and guidance and I gave them useless fucking bullshit about who to pick in their fantasy football drafts.

I used to have difficulty empathizing with people—a “borderline sociopath,” I called myself—because of the code I lived by in order to survive cancer. Now I call myself a “recovering borderline sociopath,” and those two young men deeply affected me, illustrating that I’m on the road back to humanity.

I thought I would inspire all those kids with cancer to survive like I had and then go on to live healthy lives. Somehow, impossibly, it got lost on me that they were still fighting a disease that kills one out of five who has it.

I used to look down on people who were unable to communicate with me because I had cancer, and now I couldn’t even say “That sucks,” or, “I’m sorry.” I felt their eyes glare through my fraudulency. I wrote a book about surviving cancer twice—but as a monster would have, not a human. Would they take anything away from this experience?

The social worker then escorted me to private rooms. One boy about to be discharged following a transplant quickly read my first chapter and pleaded to have me visit. I saw some of J-Heavy in this kid—motivated to survive, uplifted by my story. I wondered what would happen to his smile if his treatment took a 180°, his arm was severed like a tree limb, empty sleeve just dangling.

Another visit—a boy who just received his second transplant in a year. He was quiet, small for his age, and kind. He was receiving a form of treatment I’d never heard of—medicine has apparently made some gains in the eight years since my transplant.

A third boy, thirteen years old, had his second transplant a few days earlier. His mother spoke of how close he was with his brothers. The boy was just feeling the high of Ativan when I was there, to relax him. Traumatized. Damaged.

To E. and J-Heavy and so many of the others: That sucks. I am so fucking sorry.

Leia Mais…