Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Benjamin, Here’s What Your Year Looked Like!

Apparently my 2014 was too boring for Facebook to create my 2014 Year in Review. Or I didn’t really post anything, leaving Facebook nothing to work with. Regardless, I missed out on something horrific and I hate missing out. So I created my own Year in Review.

You got a little fatter—not enough to collect navel lint, but enough to feel heavy while rock climbing and for the button in your climbing pants to pop. You were too frugal to buy new pants so you continued climbing with unbuttoned ones. You were thankful your harness kept your pants on.

Your friend died of cancer and you don’t need a Year in Review in order to remember her.

At Some Point in Early 2014
You quit using dating websites and apps, all of them, because they wasted your time and the girls ignored you, probably because you popped your pants.

You made a cat video. Check that off your bucket list.

All Day Every Day*
You spoke to audiences who may or may not have been forced to listen, and you signed books.

*which means, like, a bunch of times

Your older brother, JD, recently said he can’t remember a single thing he did in 2011 and barely remembers what he did in 2014. Just kidding, Lolo, of course he remembers getting engaged to you! We all can’t wait to not remember your wedding next year.

You were a candidate for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man & Woman of the Year campaign and your fundraising team raised over $50,000. Hopefully LLS won’t use your donation on hookers and blow unless researchers think that hookers and blow can improve the quality of life for cancer survivors.

You spent two amazing weeks in Europe: one week as a solo traveler and the second with your Americans-temporarily-living-in-England adopted family, Mr. and Mrs. Stroopwafel. You stayed awake for essentially 48 consecutive hours, until 4 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time the day after arriving in London, in order to participate in your fantasy football draft. Le’Veon Bell skyrocketed you into the championship which you lost by four points because Russell Wilson scored 38. You can’t even force animosity towards Wilson because he fights childhood cancer.

You ate soooooo many stroopwafels in Amsterdam that you finally caved and bought new rock climbing pants. You later returned to online dating for one whole day—specifically the app JSwipe, which has the motto “Finding someone to take home for Matzo Ball soup is finally as fun as it should be!”. As it turns out, girls ignore you for reasons beyond your pants popping.

You predicted, as always, that your beloved Washington Redskins would win the Super Bowl.

You made a new Super Bowl prediction.

Over three years after you began the project, your second book Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man published. You hope and believe that Secrets is a great general leisure read; and can be a wonderful resource for families of sick children, schoolchildren learning about overcoming struggles, and oncology nurses and social workers. You will devote yourself in 2015 to reaching this goal.

End of 2014
Your new roommate, CantSleepWontSleep, has prepared a meal in the apartment just twice in two months and has eaten out the rest. This led you to reconsider your frugality, and how wealth is often simply text on a Web page that waxes and wanes for many reasons beyond the amounts you spend and save. So you bought a Starbucks latte.

Happy New Year!
Facebook did not create your 2014 Year in Review but Google+ did. Since Google+ could not differentiate who is in the photos stored on your computer, your Year in Review ends with a lovely girl from Chicago rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders Chicago. You met her once. You did not take the photo. At least you were there (on a different climbing wall away from the photo). See you next year!

Leia Mais…

Thursday, December 18, 2014

U.S. Needs to Claim Justin Bieber (Before Putin Does)

As published on The Huffington Post

Justin Bieber and I have much in common. Besides age, wealth, status, success and possibly gender, our only other differences are that he sings horrific music, has stupider tattoos, and doesn't have United States citizenship.

This is the partially true story proving why that must change.

Mr. Bieber, a Canadian citizen, likely entered the United States as a business visitor to perform for Usher. Usher loved Mr. Bieber, signed him, and they produced three number one albums by the time Mr. Bieber turned 18 years old. Mr. Bieber now has 12 times as many Twitter followers as the pope, or what he calls "Beliebers," and an estimated net worth of $200 million.

Mr. Bieber obtained an O-1 nonimmigrant visa in order to temporarily remain in the United States. To qualify for an O-1 visa he just had to demonstrate distinction: a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered. Lucky for him, Randy Jackson was his adjudicator.

I pitied Mr. Bieber as he matured into a young man. We shared a desire for fame and girls, but his art caught fire and mine didn't, and he became surrounded by unhealthy means and influence. Mr. Bieber succumbed just as I succumb to the office candy bowl because it is there and free and crushes my otherwise superhuman willpower. Keep reading, here.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Everyone Needs a Doppelgänger

In 2013 it was written, and in 2014 it was sealed.

The German term “doppelgänger,” dating back to 1851, was used in fiction and folklore and meant a spirit that looks like a living person. Often, the look-alike signified bad luck, illness or even death. Doppelgänger is now in the top 20% of terms searched on and we view it positively, simply meaning someone who looks like someone else but who is not related to that person.

The first time I recall hearing "doppelgänger" was last fall, and I immediately began searching for mine. Though everyone needs and ultimately has one, the catch is that you cannot actively find your own doppelgänger because, according to ruBENstein folklore, that signifies horrific luck, the plague, and eternal suffering. Your doppelgänger must come to you spontaneously or be presented to you by someone else.

My coworker presented me my doppelgänger just a few days after I learned what the term meant last year, and last week JT validated my doppelgänger when he texted me out of the blue, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Brian Hoyer?”

Author Benjamin Rubenstein and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer are doppleganger look alikes
 Author Benjamin Rubenstein and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer are doppleganger look alikes
Michigan State-product Brian Hoyer started the Cleveland Browns game on September 18, 2013, when quarterback Brandon Weeden sat out due to injury. He threw 54 passes and completed 30 of them, with three touchdowns and three interceptions, in a 31-27 victory over the Vikings. The following week fake Ben Rubenstein went 25-38 with two touchdowns in the Browns 11-point victory over the Bengals.

I was playing some good g-damn football.

Later that week while watching me play on Thursday Night Football, I took a bathroom break and felt a sting in my knee. I suspected the worst: fake Ben Rubenstein tore his ACL. His season ended right there. I would get the chance to play again in 2014.

The Browns drafted Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel, also known as Johnny Football. Manziel and I competed to be named the starting quarterback during preseason. Is it selfish to root for myself when doing so hurts another upstanding citizen? I beat out Johnny Football for the Browns’ starting quarterback job earlier this year. I beat Manziel, I beat Manziel!!! But I have played poorly and I am the backup in today’s game.

Ah well, you can always have a backup doppelgänger when your previous one starts to suck.

My Brazilian friend showed me my new starting doppelgänger.
Author Benjamin Rubenstein and Brazilian comedian Paulo Gustavo are doppleganger look-alikes

Most of the results after I search for Brazilian Paulo Gustavo are in Portuguese, but I did see the word “humorista” several times. So if I can’t play football anymore then I guess I’ll be a comic, and apparently really popular on Instagram.

Johnny Football rules. Go Browns.
Johnny Manziel Flips Middle Finger to Fans

Have an open mind regarding your doppelgänger. Unless your doppelgänger is the new Renée Zellweger, in which case find an immediate backup who just vaguely looks like you.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, December 4, 2014

At Least I Don't Sound Like a Complete Doofus: Part II

My speaking skills are improving at an alarming rate: my responses during my interview with Cyrus Webb tonight on ConversationsLIVE were only stupid 15% of the time, up from 93% two years ago. If you have 25 free minutes then listen for yourself through the cool thingy below. Or if you have the otherworldly LG G3 like me then you can listen while centuple tasking. So basically listening to the conversation between Cyrus and me will inspire you to cure the future disease ostrich flu, also known as H7N7#F*&KTHESEVIRUSCODES, within those 25 minutes. Either that or you'll just cry while listening because you started Matt Forte in your fantasy football playoff game and not because I'm that funny. Enjoy.

Postscript: Matt Forte scored a touchdown six minutes after this posted. Sorry, Matt.

Leia Mais…

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Artist’s Dilemma

In the 1989 fantasy film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner hears a voice that says, “If you build it, he will come.” Costner, a farmer, interprets this as an instruction to build a baseball diamond in his corn fields. Costner builds it and now his family struggles financially due to diminished revenue from Costner having plowed his crops. Costner maintains faith in the message, refusing to tear down his baseball diamond and instead going on a journey to find the source and meaning of the voice he heard.

Too bad Field of Dreams was full of shit when you apply “If you build it, he will come” philosophy in the marketplace. If you create a work of art and just put it out there, nobody will know it exists. You must understand your target markets, approach them with unique selling points that show the power of your art, and price your art in their preferred range or zone of indifference. You must promote your work frequently and on many platforms which spreads your risk of failure, because you will fail over and over though really each failure is a success because now you have learned one more way that does not work.

I began writing and speaking ten and four years ago, respectively. I also began marketing my first book when it published in October 2010. Twice was one of my greatest personal accomplishments. I dedicated myself to making it a hit, and even considered quitting my job and moving back home so I could work on marketing 90 hours a week with fewer financial burdens. Sometimes real success doesn’t correlate with commercial success.

My new book published a month ago. I face the artist’s dilemma: reaching sustained income in those passions that currently pay very little, while continuing to succeed at my full-time position until the former ever happens.

In Brad Pitt’s latest movie, Fury, the crewmen in an M4 Sherman tank share that their war duty is the “best job I ever had.” Trying to make Secrets a hit is the best job I ever had. All I can do is give my all within the delicate balance of work, hobbies, health and happiness. So long as I put my heart into it, Secrets will be a success to me even if I never push through the artist’s dilemma.

If you want to stay updated on everything Secrets, such as book spotlights and events, then like me on Facebook so that my posts make it to your News Feed. And if you are in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, then come join us for our great Win the Fight by Eating Right event next Sunday, November 23, from 1-4 p.m. at The Spa @ Westgate. We didn't build the spa though we hope you come!

Author Benjamin Rubenstein book event at Spa at Westgate in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, November 23, 2014

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two-Time Cancerslayer, Two-Time Author

Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man children's book by cancer survivor and author Benjamin RubensteinFour years ago when my memoir Twice: How I Became a Cancer-Slaying Super Man published I did not feel like a writer. I lacked formal education in creative writing and dozens of publishing companies had rejected the book. I did not know if the book was good or whether people would like it; I feared that it wasn’t and that they wouldn’t. I feared my family and friends would react negatively to the book’s raw honesty, after I spent a decade not talking about cancer.

My dad’s cousin Bionic sent me an email that made me so proud of my work; so proud to be a Rubenstein: “Your grandparents, my Aunt Nettie and Uncle Julie, would have been so proud of you. They would have greatly respected the writing and publishing of Twice and they would have admired your superman persona that conquered all.”

My dad’s parents passed away before I had a memory and my mom’s dad passed away when my memory just began. This coming weekend we will visit my only living grandparent to celebrate her 93rd birthday. She read Twice and told me she loved it so much that she would read it again. She read it several more times, telling me the same thing, maybe because she is 90+ and forgot the previous times she read it or maybe because each subsequent read moved and taught her even more.

I hope Bionic is right. I hope my grandparents would also be proud of me for my second book which publishes today: Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man. This book for teens and preteens shows in riveting detail and testosterone-fueled humor how I survived cancer and its cures in two harrowing bouts. This inspiring and instructive chronicle shows the procedures that saved my life and the attitudes that saved my soul.

Secrets is now available in hardcover from my publisher and on all Kindle-compatible devices. My mission is to get this into the hands of every single child with cancer and his or her family: to uplift them; increase their laughter while reducing their fear; show them that they, too, can be superhuman.

Thank you to all my readers and to those who believed in me and my writing over the years. Thank you. Thank you.

"Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man is one of the more unique boyhood stories of survivorship and overcoming unexpected challenges during our maturing years. Rubenstein’s positivity serves as a reminder that no matter the setback, obstacles can always be overcome with the right mindset and a great support system around you. Children and teens with cancer or other illnesses will find Secrets funny, truthful and inspiring." – Doug Ulman, President/CEO of LIVESTRONG

"It would be an understatement to say Rubenstein had a positive attitude in how he approached his battles, how he approached his treatments, and how he approached life. I especially enjoyed his candid perspective of the many treatments and procedures he went through. That personal perspective is a gift to all who are fortunate enough to read Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man." – Gary DePreta, 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society National Man of the Year runner-up

Leia Mais…

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Derek Jeter Taught Me How to Survive Cancer

I was 16 years old. I hated talking to girls and other emotional and fearful situations, and I loved imagining talking to girls and being a good kid and sports. Derek Jeter taught me how to survive cancer in October 2000, the month after I was diagnosed and began treatment, and 11 months before finishing it.

Cancer consumed my left ilium, so I couldn’t play. And chemotherapy had killed nearly all of my white blood cells, so I couldn’t visit friends. And chemo also had killed half of my red blood cells, so simply standing up made me dizzy. But I could still begin the first Saturday of October the same way I would had I not had cancer, by watching College GameDay on my favorite couch in my parents’ rec room.

I remained on the couch through the Miami-Florida State “Wide Right III” game, and through part of an extra-innings National Leagues Divisional Series playoff baseball game. I finished watching that 13-inning game on a 13-inch television at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on my retractable hospital bed, after my doctor admitted me with a fever and neutropenia.

The next day: NFL pregame show and two afternoon games. NIH did not offer cable television, so I could not see NFL Primetime and Sunday Night Football; I could not complete my 13-hour NFL Sunday ritual. My dad recorded them and brought the tape the next day.

When cancer took control of much of my life, I retained the things I loved—most notably, sports. I watched every televised college and pro football game and baseball playoff game (except those I missed while at NIH), including most of the Yankees' 16 games. By the time Derek Jeter and his Yankees won the World Series three weeks later, I learned when my blood cells would rise and fall; how I’d feel and where I’d be on any specific date; how to transform anger and sadness into motivation; how to believe that cancer would never change me. I learned so much about surviving cancer that I had become the self-proclaimed Greatest Cancer Patient Ever; I had become Superman.

Today, after 20 seasons on the Yankees, Derek Jeter played in his final game. Sports fans across the country are remembering Jeter. They are sharing what Jeter means to them, like the 36-year-old man who feels that Jeter’s retirement represents a piece of his youth dying. Jeter is also sharing how grateful he is to New York City.

I may have retained more vivid memories during October 2000 than any other period in my life, which makes that month historical and important to me. I connected that month’s activities with learning how to survive cancer. Like he has represented his sport, adopted city and team—and youth—Derek Jeter represents one of my life’s most important lessons. Though I will never forget it, I am grateful that I no longer need that knowledge.

Benjamin Rubenstein visiting Yankee Stadium in September 2009
My dad and me at Yankee Stadium, September 2009

Leia Mais…

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part III

Read these first: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Parts I and II

EuroBen, Day 8

I am back on the train headed to a small town north of London where I will stay with friends, the Stroopwafels. Unlike during my last train ride, I maintain awareness of my new crutches in the storage compartment above me. I am also aware of my job, nationality and lack of debt that together allow me this privilege to travel. I feel fortunate.

I get off at Peterborough and board my 4:20 p.m. bus to Cambridge—exactly as my ticket says, at bus bay B8, which is the only one where buses heading to Cambridge pick up, according to the sign. The bus driver reads my ticket and says, “This is Stagecoach and you need National Express coach. That’s over there,” he says, pointing to the opposite side of the station with 10 more bus bays.

I rush over to the other side of the bus station and speak with an attendant. He points to a bus just driving off. “That’s your bus.”

I can catch it if I run. I grip my rolling carry-on tighter and brace to run, and then I freeze. Three days ago I ran and jumped through the train cars looking for my crutches. Since then I have moved gingerly. Unable to bend, I must crawl my hands down my legs to tie my shoes, further stretching my tight lower back and hip muscles with each millimeter that I get closer to the laces. I imagine stretching a guitar string to attain a higher and higher pitch and then, ping. I complete the knot and slowly straighten my posture, now each millimeter in reverse causing an equally painful flame through my muscles.

The next day I bought Tylenol after waking. I could not have navigated Edinburgh Castle without it. I've been reading A Tale for the Time Being in which the main character learns to sit zazen for meditation and posture. As I rode the hop-on hop-off bus for an entire loop waiting for the medicine to take effect, I sat in a seated zazen position, perfectly straight, moving only my neck to see Scotland's beauty.

I let the bus go by. I have my freedom and possessions. I have a Kindle book to finish and new Gaslight Anthem and Rise Against albums to listen through. Life, sometimes, is really amazing and I’ll just catch the next bus in two hours. In one week when my pain begins fading I will think life is even more amazing, as the fear that I had caused permanent damage to my vulnerable hip also fades, a fear I must live with forever because my hip looks like this. From now on I will try to move slower with a shorter gait and coddle my left leg even more than before, and sit straighter and breath deeper like zazen, though this effort, too, is likely to fade, because I am still human.

Visiting Ely and Newmarket in England
Mrs. Stroopwafel took me around small-town England including Newmarket, which is considered the birthplace of thoroughbred horse racing, and Ely, which is home to Ely Cathedral which dates back 900 years. I don't think the public would tolerate tax money going into projects like Ely Cathedral nowadays so we will just have to look in awe at this and other ancient creations.
Riding replica horse at Newmarket's National Horse Racing Museum in England
At the National Horse Racing Museum, Mrs. Stroopwafel mimicked a jockey on this fast-moving replica horse as I stood and laughed
EuroBen, Day 12

Amsterdam’s architecture and water engineering amaze me. So does the blending of bicycles and nude women and hash and transsexuals. There is no judgment in this pretty city.
Visiting Amsterdam's attractions including The Heineken Experience, brown cafes and canals
Left: The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam goes from cheesy to techno to beer-providing and is great. Top: Amsterdam's authentic pubs are known as brown cafes and serve great coffee and beer (and maybe marijuana). Bottom: Amsterdam was designed in the 1600s on canals. The engineering and architecture blow my mind and this may be the prettiest city I've ever seen. Seen here is a houseboat. The government limits the number of permits for houseboats, which makes these extremely expensive places to live because of their high demand.

“I want to kill 1.5 billion people with all my guns because everyone else in the world doesn’t matter.”

I sit at a bar that locals frequent—away from the red light district and its tourists—and this extremely intoxicated local does not like hearing that I am American and speaks to me as he imagines an American thinks. Many people here in Amsterdam are as welcoming as the Scottish. They love their culture and want to share it with me. Some others though, including this gentleman who is oddly wearing an I ♥ NY t-shirt, do not.

“Everyone in your country is either rich or poor,” he says. “You Americans and your arrogance.” He starts patting me on the back, and then he starts feeling my shoulder and arm. “I haven’t gotten my fucky fucky today.”

A second later I am standing and tell the bartender to run my card. I disregard my new objective to move slower in life and instead I trot on my crutches faster than I ever have, down the dark streets towards Central Station. I buy a tram ticket back to the airport, and then a bus ticket back to the hotel where I close the door and lock it behind me.

Maybe some cities are meant to be experienced in groups.

EuroBen, Day 13

I chose not to pack my computer because I didn’t want to take time away from vacationing. Who am I kidding: I’m a writer.
Writing on the ferry from Amsterdam--typing is overrated
This very story, version 1
Mr. Stroopwafel enjoyed our short vacation and having a break from work. I had a blast with my Americans-temporarily-living-in-England adopted family.
Riding the ferry from Hoek van Holland
Relaxing on the seven-hour ferry ride from Amsterdam's Hoek van Holland back to England

EuroBen, Day 14

I have learned by many different methods, and perhaps none more densely than by traveling myself. I feel more courageous and worldly for having done this. For those reasons I think everyone should try traveling alone at least once.

I understand now that there are many ways to live beyond the Merika' way, with our ease of freeriding and mega-consumption; arrogance; and above all, freedom. I know that I never want to live anywhere else long-term. I love my country. I have felt others' hatred because of my nationality, but after seeing firsthand how hundreds of millions of people want to live here and the risks they will take for that dream, I wonder if sometimes that hatred stems from jealousy. I am sorry everyone in the world can't be as free as I am.

Where will I vacation next? Will it be on a group trip overseas, on a cruise, or by myself again? All I know is, wherever and however I travel next, I’ll get more magnets.
You can never have enough magnets

Leia Mais…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part II

Read this first: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part I

EuroBen, Day 5

I am very proud for going on this trip—now in my second leg heading to Edinburgh, Scotland. I am carefree, shut off from work and daily responsibilities and routines. I am freed from time which both passes and leads to new futures, but I can do anything I want so time means nothing to me. I think I am addicted to traveling.

Random neighbor on train traveling around Europe
While passengers ride the Tube to reach their destinations in the shortest amount of time, trains are an intimate and charming part of the culture of traveling across Europe. Riding trains provides ample time to think about where you've been and where you're going geographically and in life. And what about other solo travelers, like the relaxed girl with the pretty pink socks and her shoes kicked off, well-dressed with a coat and scarf—where is she headed? What led her to travel to Scotland by herself?
I stow my carry-on between cars five and six and my crutches in the overhead in train car four. I move freely to different cars and seats, enjoying the views and experience. I could ride while listening to The Gaslight Anthem on repeat the entire day.

Ten minutes before we arrive at Edinburgh Waverly station I go looking for my crutches. They are not where I left them. I suddenly feel like the train car is a chamber that is tightening around me. Pop quiz: if you can retrieve only your luggage or your crutches before the train leaves your stop while you are still on board, which do you choose?

If I search for my crutches instead of my luggage then I may end up in Edinburgh with neither, so I push through other riders to find my suitcase. Whew, it's there. The doors are open and I rush out to speak with a station attendant. “I can’t find my crutches!” I say. “I left them in the upper left compartment in car four. I can't walk far without them.”

“You can get back on the train and search for them. The train leaves in seven minutes,” he says.

I leave my carry-on behind a post and hope nobody steals it. I get back on the train and run through the cars, jumping on seats for a better view of the open storage compartments that line the cars from end to end, forgetting I can’t run and jump. I would tell passengers to get out of my way but my eyes say it more clearly. I check under seats, in between cars, in every nook. The doors close and it feel like my lungs do, too. Now I must choose between continuing my vacation without crutches, or stalling the vacation—still possibly without crutches. I remember the rules that guide me, that I desperately want to live by: Live without regrets. Live for adventure.

I must go. I look at the sign above the exit describing how the door opens, but my brain can’t comprehend the words. A girl sees my despair and pops the window and pushes the lever for me. I walk away and retrieve my suitcase. I will visit the East Coast rail office at Edinburgh Waverly and get all the stations’ lost property phone numbers, but my crutches will never show up.

In my book I wrote that the best thing in life is health. I offer a revision: the best thing in life is freedom. Somebody stole my crutches. Somebody stole my freedom.

EuroBen, Day 6

Life just works out sometimes: I share my tale with the young woman, Ring, who is hosting me on Airbnb for two nights and she finds spare forearm crutches in her closet from when she broke her ankle last year. “I hope I don’t need crutches again, but if I do then they will be free thanks to our National Health Service. I can’t let this ruin your holiday. Take my crutches.”

Every so often someone goes out of her way to improve your life. The magnet from Edinburgh Castle that I gave Ring and my offer to pay 1.5 times the price of replacement crutches (which she declined) don’t compare to Ring’s gift, so I will keep my eyes open for my chance to pay it forward.

Edinburgh Castle, Whiskey Experience, National Museum of Scotland and Dominion Cinema
Counterclockwise from top: Edinburgh Castle, Castle cannon, best animal exhibit ever at National Museum of Scotland, 3,400 bottles of Scotch whiskey at The Scotch Whiskey Experience, and best theater ever with reclining sofas at Dominion Cinema. Edinburgh's landscape, architecture and whiskey are only surpassed by its people: always welcoming and so easy to befriend. This is among my favorite cities and I will surely return to Edinburgh and see more of Scotland.
Renting an Airbnb room in Edinburgh during the Fringe festival
My Airbnb room with the loft bed reachable by ladder. The view and host (Ring) were special; the ladder, not so much.

Keep reading: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part III

Leia Mais…

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part I

"So you just go up to strangers at the pub and hope they want to talk to you? Don't you fear rejection?" my beautiful Australian hostelmate, Conversary, asks.

I think of all the girls over all the years; the publishers who didn't want "Twice"; the people I approached last night who kept their circle closed to me; Conversary who will likely tire of me soon. "Yes, I fear rejection."

EuroBen, Day 1

Benjamin Rubenstein departs for Europe with few possessions
Beginning my first solo trip to Europe with just a carry on, sling bag, sweatshirt and crutches
I pass through customs at London Heathrow Airport after 11 a.m. and two hours of sleep. I take my time. I go through my morning ritual in the washroom, clean my Nalgene and drink my protein shake. I follow signs for the London Underground.

My first four hours in London validate all the time I spent preparing for this trip: I purchase an Oyster card for the Tube instead of taking Heathrow Express, saving 18 pounds; secure my luggage at the hostel with the most expensive Master Lock padlock, which I bought; and buy a Vodafone UK SIM card so my mobile can function completely. It takes another hour to find a stop for the hop-on hop-off bus tour. I am exhausted and fall asleep on the bus.

I waken and exit the bus at Covent Garden after one complete loop. I enter a café and order Americano (which is espresso dunked into hot water—Brits don’t care much for freshly ground drip coffee). I sit at the bar and ask the fellow next to me for a fish and chips recommendation. He is excited to offer one and even draws a map to reach the restaurant. I connect to the free Wi-Fi and email my family “London rules,” so they know I am safe and that they can reach me by email.

I eat dinner with strangers. Italy’s employer sent him for training and Spain is here on holiday. We all roar with laughter about London’s cost of living (fried fish, fries and a beer cost us each 18 pounds, or about 31 U.S. dollars, which is a fair price there). Spain is interested in my writing and asks me to type this blog’s URL into his mobile browser. He will read it this evening, he says. Solo traveling rules. I’ve never felt so free.

EuroBen, Day 3
Collage of London sites during vacation
I tackled most of London's landmarks in one day. It was invigorating rushing from one to the other.
Collage of museums in London
I don't care much about history or art and sped through museums (except for the powerful Holocaust and mummy exhibits at Imperial War Museum and British Museum, respectively). I just had to make sure I got my souvenir magnets.
London reminds me of Washington, D.C.: the sidewalks, streets and landscaping are immaculate and blanketed with incredible and free museums; there seem to be more foreigners than locals; and people on the Tube stare at nothing while listening to music with earbuds or Beats headphones. These cities, full of people from across the planet and webbed with a beautiful rainbow of train tracks, are turned inwards. I may be right next to you here, but we are utterly alone.

There are no seats in the bar area so the pub waitress sits me in the corner. I am trying all the traditional British dishes on this trip—“bangers and mash” for this meal. When a family sits at the adjacent table, I smile and move my crutches out of their way. Like me, they order unhealthy food. I actually can't recall seeing or eating a single vegetable, and yet people are leaner here.

I mosey back to Covent Gardens and into a different pub. Whiskey in hand, I set my crutches in a corner and stand in the open, searching for my next friend. A group of four next to me talk and laugh. I interrupt with a lighthearted question and a smile. They stop laughing, answer me, and return to their banter.

I realize I must adjust my traveling expectations. Expecting I’ll find my next girlfriend, pen pal, pub buddy for the night or even a single conversation could ruin EuroBen. Now I expect to see the world and write about it, taste new foods, and meet new people during a night out or maybe just in a curt response.Yes, Europe can still rule with these expectations.

Naturally I am more introverted than extroverted. Seeking new friends depletes my energy and I have just enough left to try once more. Five Brits are out celebrating one of them losing her job—seriously, celebrating—and they take me in because “nobody should drink alone in a pub,” they say. They teach me what “taking the piss” means, and about Pimm’s cocktails and Sunday roast. I laugh at everything because they are hilarious no matter what they say or how often they curse. They buy me many drinks and won’t let me return the favor because I am a visitor. And they prevent a different Londoner from taking advantage of me. We close the pubs down. We are all Facebook friends. They rule.

EuroBen, Day 4
Haggis and jam doughnuts, two of Great Britain's culinary treats
Two of Great Britain's treats: raspberry jam donuts from Sainsbury's, and Scotland's haggis: sheep's heart, liver lungs, and stomach

I visit a pub attended by locals, away from the tourist areas. It is sparse with some old-timers watching Premiere League football and shooting pool. They also watch me. After I finish two quick pints they welcome me. Beer, I decide, is the sign of acceptance in England or maybe the world.

I ride the Tube to meet Conversary. Yesterday, we hung out at the British Library and went on an adventure to find real coffee. I forgo seeing a theater show to be with her tonight. This is not because I am a pushover—I just have a rule that, with pretty girls, I play it through until they opt out, no matter what.

Conversary is more guarded and less talkative now. I pick up the slack. “What does your sister do?...Do you like your two- or four-year-old niece more?...I bet you miss them…What does your sister do for work?”

“Are you joking?” she says. “You just asked me that. What’s wrong with you?”

I falter instead of making a joke, the wound too deep to recover from. I take Conversary back to her hostel and return to my hotel. I really wish I saw “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by myself on my last night in London instead of this, though I know I’ll always make the same mistake, as hopefulness and a desire for adventure always outweigh a life of rejection.

Keep reading: Lonely Planet: Traipsing Around Europe, Part II

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Does Frisbee Golf Have to do with Cancer?

This morning I joined FOX 5 DC's Good Day DC set to talk about one of my favorite organizations, First Descents. I know what you're thinking: only a goofball [insert other descriptors here if you wish] would mention frisbee golf in an interview about cancer and adventure trips for survivors. But hey, I'm 30 years old which means I have a license to be a _______.

You can see my interview by clicking the image below. You can also read stories I previously wrote about my experience with First Descents on its blog and The Huffington Post.

Cancer survivor Benjamin Rubenstein interviews on FOX 5 DC's "Good Day DC" about First Descents

Leia Mais…

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why it’s Possible to Spend 80 Hours Planning a Trip

The various methods of vacationing fall on the following spectrum:

the spectrum that shows the level of planning for different kinds of trips

Next week I travel both to Europe and by myself for the first times. When I decided to pull the trigger on this trip, I’d have pulled a different trigger had I known planning it would require this much time. Here is why it is actually possible to spend 80 hours planning for your solo international travel.

You want to experience all kinds of shelter and social interaction so you book a hotel, hostel, Airbnb and couch. Couchsurfing requires you to create a brand new social network profile, but nobody wants a strange dude on his couch so you face unending rejection. This is the online dating of finding shelter.

You are frugal so every day you search for cheap airfare, until your world-expert-at-traveling cousin books your flight for you using his award miles. You then buy tons of gift cards using specific credit cards so you can reimburse him the award miles. Learning about credit card “churning” requires a separate 80 hours in itself.

Pickpocketing is rampant (according to Fox News). You search for the perfect bag that has different features like a sling strap, zipper locks and slash-proof material. You consider how much will actually fit inside the small bag and your carry-on suitcase. Two changes of clothes and a passport for two weeks of travel sound about right.

Using the trains is cheaper with an Oyster card, but is it worth buying a weekly pass, and should you get a visitor Oyster card? There are four hop-on hop-off bus tour providers and which one is best and closest to where you will be staying? Oh wait, you haven’t booked where you’re staying yet. There’s a hostel app for that. But will your hostel app work with your Galaxy phone in Europe? It will if you find free Wi-Fi using the Wi-Fi-finder app, but how can you use the app without mobile service in the first place? Get an international SIM card, but only if your U.S. mobile carrier works with it. Or maybe pay for some international data…but only if your U.S. mobile carrier works with it. Pray the slash-proof material isn’t just marketing to make you feel better about yourself when your bag is slashed and your phone is pickpocketed.

Inform your credit card companies you’re traveling, and remember the PIN to your credit card’s fancy chip. You’ll need that to buy stuff, like train tickets. Which fucking Oyster card do you buy again?

Don’t forget to print all your documents, and scan and email them to your family in the States and a friend in Europe. Should you scan the front and back of your credit cards? Who knows, just do it!

Document your travels in your blog (I’ll try), but don’t bring an expensive computer or tablet because it will probably get stolen. Bring your backup computer that doesn’t work unless it is plugged into an outlet. You need a plug adaptor. Which one? Who knows, buy them all! Assume that TSA will trash your computer when you return back to the States since it is so old that it won’t power up on its own. This is ok because now you have room to bring exactly two souvenirs back with you, as long as they are small- or medium-size t-shirts.

Buy travel guides. Don’t ask anyone whether you should get Lonely Planet, Time Out, Frommer’s, Eyewitness Travel or Rick Steves. You’d receive five different answers.

You better research the best currency exchange app, whether water is safe to drink, the best checklist to print so you don’t forget stuff, what to do when you forget and lose stuff, and the must-visit pubs and landmarks.

Give your doctor enough time to prescribe Xanax so you can sleep on the plane and give your bank enough time to exchange for British Pounds. If you even succeed at one of the two then that’s a win.

See you over the pond.

Leia Mais…

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Teenage Boy and His Parents Walk Into a Sperm Bank

As published on The Huffington Post

I have become desensitized to the annual ritual where my dad hands me an envelope he's received in the mail addressed to me and that has no return address. After 14 years, we are both nearly positive of the envelope's origin. I open one side and remove the bill just enough to see Fairfax Cryobank across the top, and then hand it back to him. "I think this is for you."

My mom and I visited Fairfax Cryobank for the first time on September 25, 2000. The doctor explained my risk of sterility and the sperm banking process, and then asked my mom for written permission for me to use pornography.

"If he needs it," she said.

The previous night my dad had asked if I "know how to get it out" or if I "need help." I kept my eyes fixed on the same textbook sentence I had already read 30 times without realizing and said, "I know how; no thanks, Dad," thrilled that the dull lamp in my bedroom hid my features, hot and red as a mature habanero. At 16, I could only laugh with friends at my dad's inquiry, unable to understand his courage.

I did need help from the magazines, however. With my mom one room over, chemotherapy to treat my aggressive bone cancer beginning three days later, and the sterile cup and alcohol swab on the counter next to me, I wondered if anything other than live action would do the job.

I returned to the cryobank once more before starting chemo, this time less nervous and with both parents present in the waiting room. "Are you done already?" my dad asked after I emerged from the room with the brown couch that so many with cancer before me had been forced to execute on. Keep reading, here.

Leia Mais…

Friday, July 25, 2014

My First Blind Date

Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point about individuals known as Connectors who know lots of people and enjoy introducing them. Connectors are unique in that they have both a rare social talent and the energy to use it. My Connector-friend is Uhhcya, and he connected me months ago with Cuz1. Uhhcya clarified the connection: “No one is getting ‘set up.’ That happens on its own.”

Meeting at wine bar for blind dateI initiated conversation with Cuz1 through text messaging. I wrote that Uhhcya meets lots of interesting people. She wrote that he collects people. I asked if she has any hobbies as unique as collecting people. 110 text exchanges later, I met her at a wine bar.

I arrived on time and found two darker-skinned girls sitting on a bench. “Hi, I’m Ben. Are you Cuz1?” I asked.

“Yes, hi!” the shorter girl responded. “This is my cousin, Cuz2.”

Cuz2, whose level of cousin they didn’t even know, was visiting from Lebanon and the two girls were inseparable when visiting one another. Uhhwhat’shappeningrightnow?

Lebanese people must have different concepts of set ups because I knew I had thrown my best stuff at Cuz1 with the lines about collecting people. We ordered three individual glasses of wine and later a bottle and sat at a table together.

Most of the time Cuz2 talked, Cuz1 rolled her eyes and I asked questions. Cuz2 shared that her boyfriend had cheated on her and now she needed to whip him into shape. Cuz2 was looking for a rich hubby and wanted to spend her life shopping. She insulted disabled people which made me laugh out loud for two reasons: I walk with a limp and Cuz1 was using crutches for a hip injury. I found myself disappointed that these girls, both who grew up in Lebanon, couldn’t offer a unique perspective on anything except for the role of cousins at set ups.

We were about ready to leave. My risk analysis went something like this: If you pay for Cuz2 then you’re down $20. If you pay for Cuz2 then Cuz1 may get confused about who you’re courting. Nah, don’t be an idiot—you just don’t want to spend $20 for nothing. True. True. If you don’t pay for Cuz2 then Cuz2 will influence Cuz1 with negativity and the game is over. G-dammit.

I paid the full tab and said goodbye. Many wonder why I even cared since I didn’t particularly like Cuz1. I point out the rules that I live by that lead me to play everything out, or as my friend Hamburgers put it, “You are always all in until they opt out.”

Cuz1 opted out. Uhhcya has connected me again and my set up will also take place at a wine bar. If she brings her cousin then, by rule, I’ll have to pay the full tab. G-dammit.

Leia Mais…

Monday, July 7, 2014

Recovering from my superman complex

As published on reimagine

You have a tumor,” my mother told me. I was 16 years old. I didn’t cry that day, but I did force tears the day after. I was alone in a small basement room, yet the sobbing humiliated me. I vowed to never cry again. I decided I would become superhuman.

I received treatment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer. I would often compare myself to other patients on the pediatric floor. Besides our identical hairless appearance and disease, we had nothing in common. Some of them would call the poison “cheemy” to make it seem less frightening and grumble about needle pricks. I learned not to wince. They are sick, I would tell myself. I am not. Cancer will forever change them; I won’t let cancer affect me. And in this way my delusion flourished.

I soon learned how to turn off my emotions as if they were connected to a digital switch. I did this by feeling shame when experiencing certain feelings like sadness, and sinful when exhibiting them. When my nurse told me that she’d never seen a patient recover from vincristine, Adriamycin and Cytoxan (also known as VAC) chemo cycles as quickly as I did, my delusion grew to the extent that it took on a life of its own.

But being superhuman required more sacrifices and restrictions on my humanity. Keep reading, here.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Gala, a Trophy, and $50,000 for Cancer Research

Read this first: I Hope My Friends Forgive Me: What It’s Like to Fundraise

In less than 20 minutes at the rehearsal for candidates before the Man & Woman of the Year Grand Finale Gala, I broke protocol and walked onstage to meet myself.

Benjamin Rubenstein meeting himself as a candidate for Man & Woman of the Year
Candidates were instructed to arrive to rehearsal fully dressed. My custom-tailored super fly tuxedo direct from Vietnam was delayed in production for three weeks, forcing me to rent a slim-fit tux from Men’s Wearhouse. Two lessons for you aspiring economists: being slim costs extra (my tux rental cost $180 versus a much cheaper standard fit), and that $180 is called a sunk cost. Temporarily losing my bowtie is called this is why nobody takes Ben to galas, but fortunately my dad is clutch and brought me his bowtie from the ‘70s.

Benjamin Rubenstein wearing tuxedo for Man & Woman of the Year
At my next gala I look forward to sporting my super fly tux (which arrived a week after the Grand Finale Gala). Super pretty girls love galas.
Gala-ing at the Leukemia & Lympoma Society Grand Finale Gala
When I had left my apartment for the Gala after failing to find my bowtie, I was content with my fundraising efforts. Perhaps the only other times in my life I’ve tried so hard to achieve something involved cancer, a girl, cancer and PlayStation 2. There was nothing else I could have done to raise $50,000 and I was simply going to have fun.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society knows how to put on a production. It packed about 750 people into The Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C. to support me and my fellow candidates, and to spend money. One of the auction items was getting your caricature on the wall at Palm Restaurant – Tyson’s Corner, which had an estimated value of $15,000.

The auction ended and we entered the ballroom for dinner and the program consisting of videos with Dexter and the Boy & Girl of the Year, speeches, and candidate introductions. I headed backstage before mine. I watched the small backstage monitor as the interview I had recorded in March played in the ballroom: pictures throughout my life interspersed with me sharing my dual cancer story, why I chose to fundraise, and to whom I dedicated the campaign.

My smile grew wider as the three-minute video progressed. The emcee announced my name and I reminded myself to remember this sliver of time when I felt like the king of the world, when I was just one of two candidates who had survived cancer, one of which was the very disease I was raising money to fight and the other a cancer that caused me to walk funny in front of 750 people. I walk proudly.
Man & Woman of the Year candidate Benjamin RubensteinAll 2014 Man of the Year candidates onstsage at Grand Finale Gala
The candidates returned to our seats. I had set a lofty $110,000 goal for our campaign and the cards didn’t fall right. I knew I wasn’t going to win Man of the Year, won by the male candidate who raised the most money, but I had a chance to win one of the three awards. Any candidate could apply by answering short essay questions. Former candidates narrowed the awards down to three candidates, and then current candidates voted for the winners. I applied and made the final round for the Mission Citizenship and Community Involvement Awards.

The Mission Citizenship Award was earned for “exemplary commitment to the mission of LLS throughout the campaign.” I've been committed for a long time. My first visit to a children’s hospital in 2010 was one of my best experiences. I showed young patients that they can become cancer survivors and then they can become thrivers. They taught me to maintain perspective no matter the pace of life or struggles resulting from privilege. I hope I have something special to offer this unique group of people. I will continue sharing my story and trying to inspire people to reach goals and live better, healthier lives for as long as anyone will listen.

I still did not think that I would win. And then the emcee said, “…I read about this cancer-slayer…”

A smile erupted on my face. “It’s me!” I said to those at my table, as if they didn’t already know.
Being named the winner of the Mission Citizenship Award
The presenter finished: “The Mission Citizenship Award goes to the cancer-slayer himself, Ben Rubenstein!” I embraced my family and headed to the stage to accept my award.

Weeks earlier my friend and former candidate, Sweet McG, shared the story of her bookshelf collapsing and every item breaking except for the Mission Citizenship Award she had won in 2010. That award was one of her most meaningful possessions, culmination of her decade of volunteering for LLS following her brother’s passing due to leukemia. Sweet McG and I are committed to this mission for life. In fact, I will continue donating 20% of the sale of my new book to LLS until its official publication this fall.

And now the Mission Citizenship Award is one of my most meaningful possessions.
LLS Mission Citizenship Award presented at Man & Woman of the Year
The Man of the Year raised over $350,000 in part due to wonderful support from his employer, Cisco Systems. The Woman of the Year raised over $250,000, also with incredible support from her company, Ted Britt Ford. As a group of 20 candidates, we smashed the previous $1.1 million record for the National Capital Area by 47%, raising $1.62 million. This Man & Woman of the Year fundraiser has been accelerating in momentum and I expect our record will fall within the next few years. But it feels very special to be part of that.
total money raised at 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man & Woman of the Year campaign for the National Capital Area
By the end of the Gala, my CancerSlayer fundraising team raised $48,900, but we finished our mission days later and reached $50,000. We will be linked to a cancer research portfolio of our choosing. Options include pediatric blood cancers and stem cell transplantation, among others. Our team will decide within the next few days.

This fundraiser has been a second job for me. It has led to me feeling poorly about myself and frustration with others. It has also led to closer bonds with friends, family and future family. And now that this incredibly rewarding, top-10 life event is over, I have time to live again. What now? Ladies, I’m ready for your gala invitations.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Hope My Friends Forgive Me: What It’s Like to Fundraise

"I'm determined to get $50,000." (my email to JD, June 12, 3:55 p.m.)

"What are you at now? $50k seems VERY improbable by Saturday. Believe me I'm rooting for it, but seems like a long shot." (JD email to me, June 12, 3:58 p.m.)

"We are at $41,000." (my email to JD, June 12, 4:01 p.m.)

"We are up to $43,600. We are going to get $50k. I am going to tell LLS that I promise to pay the remainder if we don't get there at the Grand Finale Gala. No fucking way am I going to get that close and not close it out." (my email to JD, June 13, 10:12 p.m.)

This is the story of how my fundraising team raised $50,000 including $8,000 in less than two-and-a-half days in order to be linked to a $50,000 cancer research portfolio.


I received my first email notifying me that someone had donated to my Man of the Year fundraiser. I scrolled down until I saw $100 from Mr. Sunshine, always one of the first friends to support me. Over the coming minutes my phone buzzed several more times: a stranger, friend from my rock-climbing trip, former surgeon, and Orioleski—who I knew from a fashion show we participated in three years ago—all donated. Five minutes, $500.

Checking my phone each of the ~350 times it buzzed with a new donation notification was the most fun part of my days during the 10-week campaign. Some of the donations really touched me, like the $250 from my friend who hardly has much to give, or the $5 from a friend with even less. I quickly understood that fundraising is more about supporting friends and family who dedicate their lives to the cause than the amount of money.

The donation rate slowed as my initial email blast drifted further down inboxes. My desire to be creative prevented me from running an entirely traditional campaign. I made videos and wrote articles. I tied my new book’s pre-publication launch with the fundraiser by donating most of the proceeds from book sales, including at a happy hour that Luz and Republican helped organize.

JD, his fiancé JDiancé, and her family threw a fundraiser party for me. My aunt and uncle donated an insane amount and Aunt Flojo bullied her friends to help. My university supported me, thanks to Luz co-chairing the UVA Club of Washington Book Club. My high school supported me with two bake sales benefiting my fundraiser.

Our shots in the dark didn’t pan out no matter how hard we tried. We learned that a traditional campaign based on letters and emails is the most effective. I wouldn’t change our approach and love that we went for gold, but every free second of my life went to fundraising so removing the long shots would have led to a higher total.

It is hard to wrap my head around how we raised so much money. In mid-May I was afraid that our fundraising team wouldn’t hit the $20,000 incentive for a second guest table at the Grand Finale Gala; weeks later I was afraid we wouldn’t hit the $30,000 incentive for a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton the night of the Gala. We earned both. That’s when I felt the $50,000 incentive linking our fundraiser to a cancer research portfolio was in reach.

After multiple email blasts and Facebook posts, our networks were nearly tapped. There was no longer any way my fundraising team could reach our original goal of $110,000; there was also no way I would allow us to fail at reaching $50,000. This was my chance to pay forward a tiny bit of what was provided to me when I was getting treatment; to do something really good in the world. It was $50,000 or bust; succeed or always live with regret. I needed to ask people for money directly.

Four years ago while living in Arlington, I had met friends at a bar in D.C. Not wanting to pay my share of a cab ride home, I left early to take the Metro since my employer paid for my Metro card. Trains ran every 24 minutes. When mine arrived, two drunk girls dawdled exiting the train and the doors closed before I could enter. I waited 24 more minutes, and then waited for my bus when the train arrived at Pentagon City Metro Station, and then bussed 23 minutes back to my apartment with the rest of the crazies on the 3 a.m. Metrobus. I wasted almost two hours to save $15.

I’m now nowhere near as frugal, but the thought of telling others how to spend their money made me just as sick.

On Monday, June 9, with a day off work, I brought my computer to Silver Diner and ordered oatmeal and endless coffee, the liquid courage to make my first direct ask. I emailed a friend, “I know I am a dick about this, but it has to be done. If you never give to charity, then no worries and disregard this. If you do sometimes then I really would appreciate your support.” I wanted to cry.

One friend joked I’d gone too far. I didn’t get the joke. “Fundraising is challenging, uncomfortable and awful sometimes,” I wrote him. Over the coming days, asking became a little less nauseating, and far more direct.

On June 12, I wrote my first of three long, heartfelt Facebook posts. “…So much in life is out of our control, but for the challenges that I have influence over, I am determined to triumph…I am determined to reach this [$50,000] milestone with the same ferocity as I had to survive.”

We had raised $39,000.

The next morning: “I am a grinder. At the blackjack table, I always make the mathematically correct play and vary my bets only slightly when the cards count in my favor. I was a grinder on the tennis court in high school, sprinting to every ball, just making sure I hit it over the net—if I could do that every time then I could win. That was until bone cancer stole my hip. I was a grinder in the treatment room every day during the chemo cycle, every month for a new cycle, until I reached 50 chemo sessions in the year and I was done. I was a grinder after my transplant, each day the same thing—bathroom, rest, vomit, sleep—until 65 days later I went home. Which is why I am not afraid to grind through this fundraiser which ends tomorrow evening.”

We had raised $41,700.

After work that afternoon, on Friday, June 13, I unplugged my fully-charged computer and emailed, texted and Facebook messaged as many people as I could until my Dell’s battery died. Some were close friends who hadn’t yet contributed; others I hadn’t spoken to in years. My final message went to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) senior campaign manager promising we’d reach $50,000 even if the remainder came from my bank account.

My final Facebook post or message of any kind, on the morning of the Grand Finale Gala, last Saturday, June 14: “I survived cancer twice as a teenager. I will never become a doctor, nurse or surgeon; I will never start a nonprofit benefiting the cancer community. My Man of the Year fundraiser benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society which ends today is my opportunity to give back…Every time a friend, family member or stranger gives a donation of any amount—even $5—a fire lights inside me and I love you for it. Would you please be my next match?”

We had raised $44,240. I closed my computer lid, showered, and began dressing in my tuxedo for the Grand Finale Gala.

Read about my experience at the Gala here: A Gala, a Trophy, and $50,000 for Cancer Research

Leia Mais…

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Favorite Neighbor I’ve Never Met

My spine shivered when I heard Drew puking. Unlike my once-a-day vomits that mimicked the Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, Drew’s were fast, graceful and plentiful. I tracked my “Puke Count” on a whiteboard with tallies. Drew’s Puke Count would require an entire wall.

Drew and I shared a wall because he was my next-door neighbor at the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Center at the University of Minnesota. That is where I received my umbilical cord stem cell transplant to treat myelodysplasia when I was 19 years old. I never formally met Drew, though I knew much about him by prying my nurses, instructing my dad to “bump into” his mother for updates, and hearing his vomits.

Drew was 14 years old. We had bone marrow transplants around the same time to treat forms of leukemia. He vomited 30 times a day.

We suffered from the exact same post-transplant complications at the exact same times. I developed a lung infection that required me to take a kidney-punishing antifungal drug because we feared I had a pulmonary infection called Aspergillus, which has a 50-70% kill rate. He developed an infection that forced his visitors—including his mother—to dress in full body suits just to see him. I imagined Drew in the medical disaster movie Outbreak, just with a pretty, brown-haired nurse replacing the virologist played by Dustin Hoffman.

When I was discharged after 65 consecutive days in the hospital, my temperature spiked and I had to be re-admitted two days later. Drew had also been discharged the same day, but beat me back to the hospital by a few hours and “stole” my hospital room. I took the adjacent one.

After our room reversal, we each developed hemorrhagic cystitis which caused our bladders to bleed. Now we shared a wall and space between the doors to our respective rooms where nurses stacked five-gallon bags of water, creating our own miniature Mount Tambora. Our nurses would hang the bags from IV poles so the water could enter our bladders through catheters and exit through tubes leading to our showers.

I survived the transplant, Aspergillus and hemorrhagic cystitis. I returned to Minnesota 1.5 years later for a checkup. I visited the transplant center, looking in on the room that Drew and I both once occupied. I timed my visit to make sure my favorite nurse, Biel, was working. For the last time, I pried Biel about Drew.

I am fortunate to be alive and healthy 11 years after my umbilical cord stem cell transplant while many others have lost their fights. I want a world where Drew and I are both alive 11 years later. I can’t bring back Drew, but maybe I can help the next Drew. There are six days left in my Man of the Year fundraising campaign. Please donate any amount, even just $10 which would be 10 more tallies on the imaginary wall that Drew and I still share. Help me raise $50,000 for a research grant specifically for cancer research. My spine just shivered thinking of what we can do together. You can donate here.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

After Cancer, Giving Back

As published on The Huffington Post

Resting anxiously on a retractable bed and about to begin the chemotherapy drug Cytoxan, I sent my mom for a chocolate iced glazed Krispy Kreme donut from the hospital cafeteria. During treatment there were just three times each day when I could eat: immediately upon waking, and before and after the infusion.

Mom returned with an original glazed. I yelled at her: "The chocolate would drown the nickel taste of the infusion, but I don't want this!"

"I'm sorry. That is all they had," she said with her usual patience.

Two hours later with the infusion complete, I asked for small cereal boxes from the heavy shoulder bag Mom lugged everywhere. She dug deep to find them, past the pretzels I sometimes wanted and waters I probably wouldn't but were there "just in case," as she would say. Later, my mom would visit the hospital lobby again to wait an hour at the pharmacy to pick up the thousand-dollar shots I'd receive nightly to boost my white blood cells.

I spent much of my adolescence at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with my mother while being treated for Ewing's sarcoma, a bone cancer. NIH is the nation's medical research agency with its budget allocated by Congress. The American public paid for my treatment and medication; my parents paid for my donuts.

Treatment consumed my junior year of high school and when I returned for my senior year, my friend, Josh, and I estimated my treatment's total cost. Josh began calling me Million Dollar Man. It never occurred to me to estimate the total hours my mom sacrificed for me, or how many times I fussed. I survived by following a set of rules I created for myself, like "don't complain about treatment," so my agitation which could never be about cancer was instead about donuts. Keep reading, here.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Trucking for Charity

Davey felt compelled to support my fundraiser. Davey and my brother, JD, have been friends for 15 years. He has seen what I have overcome and believes in me and my story. Few things would make him more proud than seeing me named The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Man of the Year. But, Davey was not able to donate much—he has poured his life into his company, Pinchlist, which he is building from the ground up. "No amount is too small," we told him honestly, though when he shared his idea, we told him it was too much and pleaded with him to reconsider because we felt his financial security was more important.

In 2011 Davey entered the Built Ford Tough Locked & Loaded Tour Sweepstakes along with 365,000 other contestants—and probably only because a pretty girl approached him with the contest form. When he received a letter from Ford naming him the contest winner, he thought it was a joke. It wasn't. Davey won a Toby Keith Edition Ford F-150 with EcoBoost. It is the only one in the world, a fully-loaded SuperCrew customized throughout with Toby Keith's signature, icon and gear. Toby himself presented the truck to Davey at a concert.

Davey first told me this story at one of JD's Redskins tailgates, beaming with pride. I really wanted to ride in his truck. I, too, am a fan of Toby Keith due to our shared outlook. He is the Cowboy Capitalist and I am the Cancer-Slaying Super Man. He will put a boot in your ass for lacking patriotism and I put two in cancer's ass. And we are both dedicated to supporting children with cancer.

The truck is Davey's most beloved possession. It is also the means by which he can impact my fundraiser the greatest, so he has decided to sell it through an auction on eBay and donate a percentage of proceeds to my fundraiser. The higher the bid, the more he donates. The total amount LLS receives will be based on the following three donation rates:
  • For the first $100,000, 25% will be donated
  • 50% of the remaining sales price between $100,001 and $250,000 will be donated
  • 75% of the remaining sales price above $250,000 will be donated. 
This is Davey's way of doing good in the world, and supporting children with cancer just like me and Toby. JD and I are very proud of him and honored by his support. You can help spread Davey's spirit by sharing the truck auction's link on eBay with your country music fans. Help us raise up to $100,000 or even more for cancer research.

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