Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Rehabilitator: My October Cancer Peep


Following my 2001 surgery I received at-home physical therapy. I progressed from not knowing how to signal my hip muscles to move, to feeling twitches, to seeing twitches, to creating visible movement, millimeters at a time. After ten weeks I could begin weight-bearing and intense PT at the hospital clinic.

On a warm, beautiful March afternoon my dad pulled me away from my Field of Dreams and Triple Play Baseball spring training excitement to drive me to my first appointment with Formula-6, who was the PT clinic’s specialist: young, built, and formerly a competitive gymnast, cyclist, and tennis player.

Formula-6 pushed me when I used the leg press, walking rail, underwater treadmill and other equipment, and his hands-on stretching was torture. My initial terror that my delicate hip would rupture beyond repair was replaced with perpetual trust in him.

Formula-6 has yet to work with another person with an injury like mine, and I think in that clinic of mostly older patients with common problems he relished the challenge. Chemo and low blood counts were roadblocks overcome by accelerated progression when I was able. Boring breaks between sets were remedied by Formula-6 telling stories with his dry humor and South African accent: spraining his ankles so often that his feet sometimes flop over, or his bodybuilding buddies eating entire chickens for a snack.

I worked exclusively with Formula-6 2-to-3 hours a week for 14 months. Now I can walk miles at a time, move with surprising agility, and squat a respectable weight. I also limit myself to eating half a chicken in a sitting.

Formula-6 and I stayed in touch, grabbing lunch and providing video game and movie suggestions to each other. The next times I needed physical therapy I didn’t consider other providers, despite his new private office residing three times farther. Over the years I’ve asked him countless questions about nutrition, weight-training, and the new physics of my body. I consider Formula-6 a life adviser, a role I can only reciprocate when it comes to recommendations for DiCaprio movies or rotisserie chicken.

Last November I injured my shoulder by jerking down the pulleys before performing butterflies, a sign that I used too much weight for the exercise. I figured a shoulder injury was so common that any PT clinic would do, so I went to one down the street. I saw initial improvement, but that tapered. After additional months at this “human assembly line” PT clinic, three orthopedic surgeon consultations and one specialized MRI, the injury remained.

I then drove an hour away to see Formula-6. He correctly diagnosed me just from his initial evaluation and reading the MRI report. This led to dry-humor pokes at all the less helpful health practitioners I saw before him. Formula-6 is a diagnostician, physical therapist and physiatrist all in one. There is very little that stumps Formula-6 besides recalling full-length movies he has sat through and enjoyed, and the number of hours he watches F1 trials and races.

I have provided office support for Formula-6 part-time, watched his kids while he and his wife were away, and cursed with him on the golf course. Cancer probably gives an equal amount as it takes—in this case a lasting friendship. It is fitting that Formula-6 is my Halloween Cancer Peep because his wife loves the holiday and keeps their home decorated year-round, much like I’ve yet to package and store my electric menorah.
best physical therapist in Fairfax, VA

Leia Mais…

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Could Have Been a Coxswain

I walked around the activities fair before my first year of college at UVA when someone called me over to his table display. “Hey dude, I'm on the club crew team. Are you a first-year?”


“Your small size would make you perfect for our team. You should come by the crew house to talk about it.”

“Thanks, but I can’t row.” Because cancer stole my left hip.

“That’s the thing, you don’t have to be able to row. We could really use you, and you’d be an important part of our team. I think you’d really enjoy it.”

“Sorry man, but no thanks.”

I continued walking, looking at other table displays, and pretending like I was going to participate in something. I visited the crew house a couple times in college just for their great parties.

Years later I visited UVA for a football game, and went out to Buddhist Biker Bar afterward where towering members of the crew team stood near. “They rushed me to be on their team during my first year,” I mentioned to my friend, Bandida. “No clue why—those giants could generate way more power than me.”

“They probably wanted you to be the coxswain—that’s the guy who sits in the front.”

I laughed at the name. “The what?”

“Have you seen The Skulls?”

“Yes, though I had a nonsexual man crush on Paul Walker, not Joshua Jackson.”

“…Well anyway, remember the guy who sat in the front facing the others and yelled at them to row faster? He was the coxswain. The coxswain doesn’t actually row.”

“No way, that could have been me?!” I shouted. “I would have been a perfect coxswain. Damn.” I sulked the rest of the night. I had walked away from crew ten years ago partly because I was painfully shy but mostly because I was afraid of having to mention my cancer and admit it made me incapable. That is one of my life’s few regrets.


My cancerous left ilium was removed on January 10, 2001, and the remaining bone and joint radiated, leaving them deformed and necrotic. I can never run or jump again.

Years after my surgery while at the gym with Zeke I accidentally performed a skip-like motion. My damaged left hip felt fine because the force of landing went through my right side. I smirked at Zeke. “What?” he said smiling.

I turned my attention back to the indoor track we were standing on and skipped away: elevated right, landed right, stepped left, repeated. My feet accelerated and stride grew as wind whooshed across my face. I completed a lap and burst into joyous laughter. After years of dreaming about running, I experienced that same adrenaline rush by tweaking the motion. I later labeled this movement “whipping”—part walk, part skip.

This past Saturday I spoke at a fundraiser celebrating an eight-year-old boy who is finishing up treatment for his second cancer. He currently uses a wheelchair with hopes that high-tech physical therapy will trigger lower leg abilities that will lead to him walking again. His parents teach him that there is nothing he cannot do.

I told the boy and audience Saturday, “After surgery I kept asking my surgeon, ‘When am I going to play tackle football again?’ Because I was unwilling to admit that I was less capable than anyone else, regardless of what was taken from me…But aha! I’m still no less capable than anyone else because of this thing I call ‘whipping.’” I demonstrated my favorite movement and received applause. Like me, the athletic boy can tweak activities so that he can participate. There is nothing he or I cannot do, so long as we open our minds.

Joshua Jackson has put on some lbs since The Skulls, but I’ll stay in top shape in case the opportunity to be a coxswain arises again.
Benjamin Rubenstein uses a rowing machine

Leia Mais…

Sunday, October 14, 2012


When I began this blog over five years ago, Mr. Mountain Dew and I debated how many total page loads it would take for me to become famous. He guessed in the five-digits; I guessed in the sevens. I’ll split the difference with Mr. Mountain Dew from a digits perspective (as opposed to the value of those digits) and consider myself famous now that Both Nuts has reached 100,000 hits.

StatCounter dashboard for tracking blogger hits

I have so many people to thank.

I’d like to thank my literary agent, K, for sticking with me for six-and-a-half years. I used to be a nag, complaining about all her edits and thinking my submitted draft was worthy of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. My business etiquette has thankfully improved and I now only contact her for pleasant reasons. I began Both Nuts based on K’s suggestion, and I enjoy improving its appearance and writing new stories even more than the groupies and other accompaniments. An average blog becomes stagnant after three months, but I’ll update mine for life.

I’d like to thank PingPongGirl and Hamburgers for editing most of my blog stories in the early years, not to mention my book’s first and second drafts, respectively. I compensated them with gift cards, belated complimentary copies of Twice, and a lifelong resume booster. In other words, if the value of their editing accrued interest then I’d owe them my firstborn. I might as well sign over ownership of my frozen sperm now. They could even take over cryobank payments from my parents (an awkward future blog story about that is inevitable).

I'd like to thank Mike Reda for designing my blog a couple years ago. Before then I had developed my blog header with a free trial of Adobe Fireworks. I'm hoping remnants of that have been wiped clean of the World Wide Web forever.

Though I create a blocking cookie so I don’t pad my own blog stats, I’d like to thank my dad for being responsible for 20-50% of the total hits. He subscribes via email but still checks the website each morning in case anyone commented. I receive a few comments a year.

I’d like to thank my readers from around the world who find Both Nuts through endlessly amusing search engine queries. My all-time favorite is “I love the cock inside me, my true story.” Of my blog’s recent keyword activity, I like the person from Athens, Georgia, who Googled “kelly kapowski cock,” and the Iranian who Googled “male feet lick.”

My first blog story encouraged my parents to never discuss the content of my book or blog, and they more or less have withheld from initiating awkward discussion. I’d like to thank them for their past and continued inhibition.

I’d like to thank my blog’s biggest fan (besides my family): a lovely young woman located in the Middle East, who checks in almost every day. She told me that she appreciates how approachable I am, and that one of her family members passed away from cancer.

I’d like to thank anyone who has ever written about or linked to Both Nuts, notably Sarah Kogod of The Washington Post and Iva Scoch who randomly found and linked to my blog for her Newsweek article. They’re the reason this blog briefly reached a PageRank of 4, possibly why my book was published, and unlikely why both my testicles are still intact.

I’d like to thank all my groupies for maintaining my normalcy and never bothering me in public. My life is so uninterrupted that it’s like I’m not even famous.

Leia Mais…

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Brightside: My September Cancer Peep


My First Descents rock-climbing group discussed female sexual organs at a rate 5,000,000 times higher than during my usual conversations. That’s what happens when females outnumber males 2:1, the party consists of young cancer survivors who are used to divulging all aspects of bodily functioning, and the most gregarious  is an HPV-possessing cervical cancer survivor.

If “cancer survivor” had a prototypical appearance, 31-year-old Sunny lacked it. Sunny was super fit with a background in trapeze, and had inner strength that glowed brighter than her build. Sunny’s superesteem led to stories about her sex drive, first period, ovary-saving experimental operation, and the location of her cervix.

Sunny’s superesteem was contagious. I showed her (and Hooooolz) my OkCupid profile for review. Their comments led to me believing my profile was Gosling-esque, though they did not lead to an improvement to my 9% response rate. If only I were gay because I’m certain my male response rate would be at least 11%.

At three months post-treatment, Sunny was a new survivor, especially compared to Gnomers or KMac. She also hid from us (and maybe herself) a sense that her cancer remained, “the same way I know my feet are big,” she later described to me.

First Descents has its own social network called the “HUB,” which encourages us to maintain our tight group without concern for how outsiders will perceive our comments, because most others can’t relate. Fudge, the non-survivor adventure-writer who joined our group for an upcoming story, couldn’t handle these updates and turned off her HUB notifications. Some group mates reach out for words of encouragement. I, of course, write goofy and pointless notes. But I think we most look forward to updates from those still in treatment.

Snippets of these updates include:
“Scans came back showing growth in two small (~5mm) probable tumors in my lung…Not anything really serious, more inconvenient.”
"The doctors took out my ovaries…which were the size of softballs. They also took my appendix, which had a pea-sized tumor. Finally, they went after several very small tumors that were between the stomach and the colon.”
“I go under the knife today to get two more lumps removed from my lung. Should be pretty short and only stuck there for maybe four days.”
“I would be on [chemo] sort of indefinitely—doing scans every two months or so to see how things go. There are still some very small tumors in my abdomen that weren't prudent to go after in surgery (the surgeon got some, but not all, in addition to removing my 11cm ovaries and my apparently tumored appendix).”
“I had an xray of my hip…At least it doesn't look like Swiss cheese! (I'm being serious on that one)…I start radiation on my hip for sure and depending what is found on the MRI possibly my back and if necessary my cranium.”
“The other tumor has grown. So I dropped out of the clinical trial I was in and got crackin' on Plan C (I figure since plans A & B were a bust, Plan C will definitely work…you know, 3rd time's a charm!)…Surgery involves a radical hysterectomy, intraoperative radiation therapy, vaginal reconstruction, and probable bladder removal…They say it'll probably take about eight weeks until I'm back to normal everyday things and about a year before I'm fully recovered. Somebody is going to have put a harness on me to keep me tethered to the ground for an entire year! Yikes.”

I’m sure Fudge wants to know about her friends like Sunny—she just lacks the desensitization (and quasi-sociopathy) cancer provides in order to handle it. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to, and I’ll never apologize for it, but Lings and Sunny measure up to my Superman Complex. They also continue to refresh my perspective.

Sunny could use some mi sheberach for her upcoming trials, and fortunately she has plenty of it: she is a recurring guest on the The Jeff Probst Show (tune in tomorrow for her next appearance). The talk show website even has a tab for her. I told Sunny that I would ride her coattails to fame, and that she’d now need a bodyguard: I offered protection for negative $45.95 per hour.

Despite her fame, feel free to send your thoughts of healing because she could always use more. No way will this star be held down for a year.
Rock-climbing in Moab, Utah, through First Descents

Update March 5, 2014: Sunny passed away a month ago, on February 4, 2014, as a result of cancer.

Leia Mais…