Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Community Enticer: My July Cancer Peep


We filed out of our two vans for our first scenic break. Unending giant red rocks stacked on top of one another: I thought I was on Mars. We had just arrived for our First Descents rock-climbing trip in Moab, Utah.

I glanced over the cancer-surviving participants in the other van. My eyes paused on a girl with clean olive skin, short brown hair, sweet aviators, and non-traditional attire which I labeled “hippie clothes” because I lack female fashion apparel knowledge and knew no other way to categorize it. She was also leaner than me. Lings, as her nickname was later revealed, was smiling and gesturing towards the stunning, cloudless sky, which I now guess my mind fabricated in order to fit her “hippie” label.

Later, we all swapped stories. Lings was from Arkansas in a town of 300 people. Her home’s drinking water derived directly from a nearby stream. During the spring Lings would see tadpoles in her glass. She was intellectual, humorous, tech-savvy, and spoke with a dialect that revealed during words with “ay” sounds:
“Those tadpoles were toi-ayyysty.”
“No woi-ayyy those tadpoles goi-ayyyve me cancer.”

I believe that latter statement, though I can barely believe her cancer account. In March 2011, at just twenty-six years old, Lings was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. But there in Utah with her port removed and hippie glow, Lings was a cancer-free cancer survivor like the rest of us. My assumption stemmed from my general unaffiliation with the cancer community, and my Superman Complex. You get cancer; are provided a cancer completion milestone date; take the treatment; reach the milestone; the end.

Though Lings and I rode in separate vans from the airport, we traveled together for the remainder of our trip. In “Doogie’s Van,” Doogie and I sat in front—often increasing the music volume—as a slew of ladies sat in back discussing “up and out of the way” cervices, large ovaries, and which 90’s song played during Sunny’s first period (Lisa Loeb’s “Stay”). Lings had uploaded “Stay” to her phone days before. I had never been so thankful for another dude to stay with me during my forced proximity with several girls.

Lings quickly earned the turkey hat—a nightly reward for the raddest person. This was no surprise. She took the group’s most socially anxious and risk-averse survivor under her wing. When Nae Nae finally gathered the courage to repel down the rock, Lings hugged her, teary-eyed. Lings later presented her turkey hat to me.

I used to shove the cancer community away. I hardly communicated with other patients and survivors, dictated by my Superman Complex, and didn’t appreciate their friendship. Lings and the others offered a new opportunity for me.

Something else was new: my awareness that some of the other trip participants were not cancer-free. Two were in the middle of their multi-year leukemia treatment. Another knew he had new growths in his lung. And Lings had found out one week prior to our trip that she had many tumors on her ovaries.

In Doogie’s Van on the next-to-last day of our trip, Lings listened to a voicemail reporting that her uterine tissue biopsy came back benign. Our van erupted with joy. This time even Doogie and I embraced our van’s discussion.

Since returning home, now in D.C., Lings has had her ovaries and appendix removed, port re-inserted, and chemo re-started. At least her uterus is soi-ayyyfe. Her official survival statistic is 6-8%, and one doctor told her, “You know you’ll be on some form of treatment for the rest of your life, right? Because there is no cure.”

Lings laughed while sharing this with me. She laughed harder when describing her upcoming procedure in three months. Known as “hot chemo,” Lings will have her abdomen filled with physically warm chemotherapy and then shook about so the fluid reaches her whole cavity. I like Lings’ term better: shoi-ayyyke and boi-ayyyke.

As strongly as I resisted earlier in life, I am now drawn to the cancer community. Being around Lings and others does not burden or upset me; it enlivens me. I wish to help her however I can, and for her to know that I would reap far greater rewards than she would.

Just like when I was provided a 30% chance of survival, I advised Lings to consider that her 6-8% doesn’t apply to her. I believe that. Also, tumors are terrified of tadpoles.

If you want updates on Lings’ life and cancer journey, then read her blog and follow her on Twitter.
Rock-climbing in Moab, Utah, through organization First Descents

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who Would Win in a Fight between Josh Sundquist and Me?

Josh Sundquist is the other Ewing’s sarcoma-surviving, 27/28-year-old, DC-based author and motivational speaker. Josh wrote the national bestseller, Just Don’t Fall, which released less than a year before my book. He delivers speeches to thousands of people for currency other than an Amazon gift card (my most lucrative speaking receipt to date). Josh’s leg was amputated as a boy, and he later skied in the Turin, Italy, Paralympic Games. Josh is more than 100 times more popular than I am using Facebook Likes as a measurement. Even his girlfriend has more than three times my number of Twitter followers.

Our similar backgrounds lead me to consider that There can be only one! But, does it have to end that way? Follow our epic fight to find out…

The Tale of the Tape
Benjamin Rubenstein and Josh Sundquist duel
Benjamin Rubenstein and Josh Sundquist duel

Sundquist is taller and heavier. And despite my notable power-to-weight ratio, he won the Body-for-Life contest, an annual physique transformation competition. I’ll even refrain from labeling him a cheater for using professional trainers.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 0

Sundquist is a much better speaker, utilizing facial muscles and vocal variety I’m incapable of. But my book is  better than his, despite the sales differential that is likely many multiples of our Facebook Likes gap. Don’t discount persuasive speaking and writing skills during hand-to-hand combat.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 0

Sundquist has only one leg, which you may consider a disadvantage. However, my hip is vulnerable and can sustain further injury, so I will baby it as he aggressively drop-kicks me without anything to lose.
Sundquist: 3  Rubenstein: 0

Sundquist uses crutches. Crutches are dangerous.
Sundquist: 4  Rubenstein: 0

I appeal for crutches to be considered a weapon. My appeal wins. Even TSA proceeds to confiscate crutches, along with canes and those prickly hair brushes. This ruling negates his two previously mentioned advantages, and then some.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 1

Sundquist’s girlfriend cries for him to forfeit before getting hurt. I don’t have a crying girlfriend, though I do have my desert ladies who first seduce then knock unconscious the referee, and then throw carabineers and chalk balls at Sundquist.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 2

Sundquist’s cushy Clarendon residence has softened him, whereas my less-affluent south Arlington apartment—formerly containing roaches and mice—has hardened me.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 3

Without a conscious referee (thank you, desert ladies) I reach into my rocket shoe’s secret compartment and grab the pepper spray.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 4

Our fight takes place after my weekly Cheat Lunch, leaving me stuffed and nearly unable to move. Now blind and on one leg, Sundquist still manages to clobber my abdomen. This irritates my gallbladder, which acutely erupts through at least one orifice. The bile, which feels hotter than the ghost chili pepper, lands on Sundquist’s face, and my desert ladies have to remove his girlfriend from the premises to stifle her screaming.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 5

Sundquist takes breaks to vlog for his YouTube Channel, which is in jeopardy of losing followers thanks to my scalding gallbladder acid deforming his face. While he breaks, I just stand in the ring, still unable to move due to food overdose and an exploded organ.
Sundquist: 2  Rubenstein: 5

I need medical care fast, so this must end now. My desert ladies confiscate Sundquist’s hairspray from his girlfriend’s handbag and toss it to me. “If you move, it dies,” I tell Sundquist. He gets down on his knee and begs me to liberate his cherished cosmetic. “All I ever wanted was your friendship,” I say…”and this victory,” I add. “Both are yours,” Sundquist says. I engage Sundquist with the cross-face chicken wing.
Rubenstein: Knockout

Then the two fighters—survivors—embrace in the ring."There doesn't have to be just one!" I say.

"I know," Sundquist replies. "I knew all along. Just like people don't have to have two hips or two legs to be able to withstand, for example, someone bleeding all over me right now. I will teach you about life and love, friend. Just do me a favor: could you please leave your desert ladies for a bit? They can really rifle those chalk balls."

Keep reading: Who Would Win in a Fight Against Josh Sundquist and Me?

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Dad on Clothes

JD and I looked at each other quizzically. “Bullseye, when did you start wearing cargo shorts?” I asked. My dad had been wearing jean shorts up until three days ago. Yes, I said three, not three-thousand.

“I saw this and another pair at Walmart last week on sale for $15 each. You know, boys, these cargos are real comfortable!”

My brother and I had suggested Bullseye wear cargo shorts last decade. That fashion trend has since faded, and I expect he’ll adopt my slender above-knee shorts when he’s in his upper 90s.

Wearing cargo shorts long after they were in-style
After the initial shock we looked closer at his cargos. “Bullseye, it looks like you’re wearing an umbrella!” I could fit my entire body in the leg opening. He turned to examine his great purchase from all angles, muttering that JD and I didn’t know anything. Then we saw that his shorts folded on itself at the waist. “Bullseye…did you try those on first?”

“Of course not. I figured that after losing 30 pounds I’m probably down to a size 34. They fit.”

“What happens if you take off your belt?” JD said.

“I don’t know, let’s see.” My dad loosened his belt buckle and let go. His pants fell down.

“Bullseye, you need to exchange those for size 31s. Those are at least three sizes too big,” I said. Or convert them into a blanket, I thought.

Looping a belt because pants are too big“I’m not exchanging anything. All I have to do is tighten my belt.” JD and I now focused on his belt, which was so long that my dad looped it back towards the buckle. “So long as I have a nail and hammer, my belt will always fit.”

“How many extra holes have you added to that belt?” I asked.

He unbuckled his belt to investigate, and grabbed his shorts before they fell down again. “This is the fourth hole I’ve made. I’m like MacGyver!”

Bullseye very rarely buys new clothes. He prefers hand-me-downs from my uncle or brother. He does not believe that losing 30 pounds or any other amount necessitates a new wardrobe. Our discussion occurred while on vacation at the beach. Before joining Bullseye in the ocean I confirmed that his principle did not extend to swim trunks.

We later discussed office apparel. “I never wear ties at my new client site,” I remarked.

“Me neither,” JD said. “Bullseye, do you have to wear ties at the office?”

“I guess I don’t have to, but I do. It’s the only way to keep my shirt from falling down around my neck!” His belt-looping and pants-folding are also not limited to casual wear. “Coworkers don’t say anything, so what do I care.”

My dad’s clothing selection is not confined to used, large and outdated. During a very warm day in April I was surprised to see him wearing shorts. “The shorts season officially begins in May, but it’s hot so I broke the ‘April-pants’ rule today,” he had said.

Wearing a college forma's shirt to the beachMy dad wears specific clothes for each day of the week, like his “Sunday shirt,” for example. This leads to him saving clothes. He first wore his Cal Ripken, Jr., consecutive games streak t-shirt a decade later. “Cal still owns the record!” he had proclaimed. He also designates clothes for certain occasions, like his beach shirt which he wears at all times when he’s not in the water, for protection from the sun’s rays. The shirt’s neck is stretched enough to, again, accommodate my entire body. It also happens to be a saved shirt: a hand-me-down fraternity formals shirt from my brother from 1999.

“Which fraternity is that on your shirt,” a vacationer asked him after seeing the shirt.

“Heck if I know,” my dad said. “I don’t speak Greek.”

My aunt bought my dad an expensive navy striped suit for his 65th birthday, which he adores and has donned once in the past two years. He saves it for special occasions or until his other suit from the 1970s wears out.

Sometimes my dad is a fashion trendsetter, at least he claims, like how flannel became popular after he wore it. Really, he wore flannel as a boy and never stopped, and the fabric spiked in popularity in the 90s and again a couple years ago. He’ll claim the same thing if looped belts ever take off.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I finish exercising, showering and dressing, and lay on the bed watching television to reduce my excitement. I’m about to have the mother of all Cheat Meals at Giordano’s Pizzeria with Mom, Grandma Dot, and two younger Cuzzins. Quantity in this case will not be measured in slices, but rather pounds.

Mom calls when she said she would—after picking up ninety-year-old Grandma Dot from her assisted living home and scooping me up en route to Giordano’s. Mom’s tone jacks my heart rate back up. “Dodge Avenger stalled in front of Grandma Dot’s building and won’t start. I don’t know what to do!!!!!” Mom says.

I calmly tell Mom that I know nothing about cars but call Dad who knows a bit about cars and make sure the key is in the ignition and turn it clockwise not counterclockwise. Our call ends, and I pray.

Another call minutes later. “Grandma Dot had to go inside it’s so hot in here, I’m sweating through my clothes, Dodge Avenger won’t even try to start, it just makes a clicking sound!!!!!” Mom says.

I call Cuzzins to explain that Dodge Avenger won’t move, and we can’t leave it in front of the assisted living home’s entranceway. Cuzzins will have to wait at Giordano’s until I get more info from Mom, who is on the phone with Enterprise. How does the pizza smell? Do you see any pies? I’m so hungry, which reminds me to buy a granola bar from the vending machine to get out of my self-induced brain fog (i.e. extreme hunger to make my Cheat Meal more rewarding).

Twenty minutes later Mom calls. “I have to wait here for Tow Truck, and then head back to Enterprise at O’Hare Airport to exchange for a different rental car, I can’t believe this, this is terrible, I’m so out of sorts, so hungry, Grandma Dot had to go upstairs!!!!!”

Rental Dodge Avenger breaks down at assisted living homeI tell Cuzzins how sorry I am, but they should probably go home because this could be a while. “Enterprise and Dodge Avengers suck,” I say.

I take Cab to change places with Mom so she can spend time, and eat, with Grandma Dot. They order Giordano’s. I refuse to join because this no longer feels like a Cheat Meal.

Tow Truck arrives after four hours thanks to Enterprise’s incorrect dispatch, thanks to Enterprise’s faulty Dodge Avenger, thanks to Chrysler Group, thanks to President Obama.

Tow Truck reaches O’Hare and I think, WWYSGDD (What Would a Young Spry Grandma Dot Do)? That may not be the ideal decision-making tool, but still better than WWDHSCBD (What Would a Drunk and/or High and/or Sober Chris Brown Do). I beeline towards Enterprise. “Dodge Avenger stalled which ruined our family reunion. Is there a BMW I can drive?

Luxury Volkswagen CC rental car in Chicago, IL“No, but we do have high-end sedans, including a loaded Volkswagen CC.”

The next morning, with my hunger and emotions subdued, I put Volkswagen CC to the test. I set the touchscreen radio, power leather seat and mirrors. I pick up Grandma Dot on our way to Starbucks. I make the wrong turn and see Grandma Dot clench the door handle because Grandma Dot has to go to the bathroom because Grandma Dot goes to the bathroom ever eight minutes. “I have to go to the bathroom,” Grandma Dot proclaims.

I have to make up time to get Grandma Dot to the bathroom. WWYSGDD? I crush Volkswagen’s pedal as 4’6” Grandma Dot melts into the seat and puts a dent in the door handle. I now know Germans make great automobiles and Grandma Dot always knows what to do.

Returning early the following morning after a night out including flip cup in Bucktown, a neighborhood of Chicago, with Hooooolz, to finally see Cuzzins for breakfast, I evoke WWDHSCBD and take Tylenol and coffee. Chris Brown sometimes knows what to do.

Before heading back to Virginia, I finally have my Cheat Meal, including both Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s, two of Chicago’s finest pizzerias. On my next visit I will require a Chicago pizza lineup, with no fewer than pizza from five different eateries, for a blind taste test. WWYSGDD? Not have a heart attack, at least, though I can’t guarantee the same for myself.

Leia Mais…