“ Laugh as much as you can, especially at the absurd things you must go through; and bring baby wipes everywhere.
Benjamin Rubenstein is one witty mAss Kicker! He is a blogger for the Huffington Post and a writer/editor for the federal government in Washington DC. He has written 2 books about his experiences as a teenage/young adult cancer survivor. He also speaks at conferences and venues to talk about his experiences! We met him at a conference a couple years ago and have managed to stay in touch. We were fortunate to catch up with him and ask him a few questions.
mK: Thanks for doing this Ben! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
BR: I was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, bone cancer, in September 2000. The orthopedic surgeon said I had “something growing” in my hip. I didn’t know what that meant, so my mom told me an hour later at the kitchen table, “You have a tumor.” Even the oblivious and common sense-lacking teenager that I was knew what that meant.
mK: Sometimes ignorance is bliss. What were your symptoms?
BR: I had been having pain in my left hip for half a year. That pain had gradually been getting worse and by the time of diagnosis included a bruise and bump in my lower back on my iliac crest (which is the top of the hip bone).
mK: So, why did you decide to share your story and write a book?
BR: I was working the night shift at Hollywood Video in between my second and third years of college. My coworker and I would have races to see who could unlock 20 DVDs the fastest—during working hours, mind you—with the loser paying the winner’s daily candy. I had just lost an epic race with a dozen customers watching, and was hit with the idea that I should write a book. I didn’t have any other inspiration, like reaching out to people or sharing my story. It was simply the idea to write a book. I do not know why my epic DVD-unlocking contest resulted in this idea.
So that night I handwrote 500 words. The next morning I saw how terrible the writing was, but I always finish what I started, so I kept writing. Had I known my first draft would reach 142,000 words then I probably would have quit, so I’m glad I had no idea how long books are (my memoir published within the standard range of 85,000 words). I also improved my writing over the years—thank goodness for my fans, as nobody wants to read those original 500 words—and it is now my career.
mK: HAHAHA! Who are your heroes?
BR: Ken Griffey, Jr. was my idol as a boy. I hope it isn’t weird that he was still my idol into my twenties. Ditto for Lance Armstrong, Cal Ripken, Jr., the character Rocky Balboa. I have always been drawn to athletes who demonstrate a fiery drive to succeed no matter the challenge.
mK: So, What motivates you?
BR: Most decisions in my life are based on the drive to never be seen as the “sick kid,” the way I’m sure people saw me going through treatment when I was 16 years old. Also…to get girls. I fail shockingly well at that one.
mK: HAHAHA! When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
BR: I’m not sure I felt like myself until a year ago, so over 12 years later. Last year I voluntarily began using forearm crutches for long walks. I may be the first ever “quadstepper,” which is the term I coined for someone who chooses to use crutches without a medical need. Despite my fears otherwise, quadstepping has freed me from any restrictions and even provided a sense of strength as I demonstrate my abilities in the presence of perceived disabilities.
mK: Hmmm… FYI: in physical rehab terms that is technically either 4-point gait or 2-point gait. hee hee… What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
BR: Laugh: most things and anything involving inappropriate humor.
Cry: After learning of my tumor I had promised myself I’d never cry again, as part of the “Superman complex” set of rules I created in order to survive. So, perhaps sadly, pretty much nothing, as I am unwilling to let go of the rules. As for the total number of cries in the past 13.5 years, I’ll keep that my little secret.
Angry: when people doubt the Redskins will win the Super Bowl every year.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
BR: I got a tattoo of—get this—my original perception of my tumor. It is an ugly, spikey-haired, blue-spotted blob with a terrified expression on its face because I was about to annihilate it. That perception is part of my drive, and now a reminder of where I have come from in case my perspective ever fades.
mK: Cool! Sounds a lot like “Lumpy the Tumor.” What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
BR: Getting girls, and I have not overcome it (see question above).
mK: HAHAHA! What is your guilty pleasure?
BR: Definitely unhealthy foods in enormous quantities when presented to me for free. No amount of Superman complex rules can stop me from eating Oreos if they’re within my reach.
mK: Mint Oreos are the best! If you had to describe your life in 20 words to less, what would you say?
BR: Baller, shot caller; not a brawler or ladykiller; definitely driven to succeed and crush negative perceptions, cancer annihilater, and striver of always doing the right thing. [26, my bad]
mK: Pretty close. What do you like to do in your spare time?
BR: Rock-climb. I lost the athletic competition when I lost my hip to cancer. Rock-climbing gives it back to me.
mK: What are you up to now?
BR: My second book is publishing this year, it is an illustrated book for young readers and teens—or adults wanting a nice, quick read—about my cancer journeys (did I not mention I survived a second cancer?). I contend this will be the single greatest resource for children to learn about illness and the unique ways to deal with it.
…No conflict of interest or bias, obviously.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
BR: Find your method for survival and ignore idiots like me; laugh as much as you can, especially at the absurd things you must go through; and bring baby wipes everywhere.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
BR: I played the role of Peter Pan in my second grade play. I wore green tights.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
BR: The name of my new book is “Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man.” Join me in being a Super Man or Super Woman Cancer-Slayer.
Benjamin Rubenstein: Peter Pan, Baby-wipe “soiler,” avid Rock climber, Oreo cookie addict, writer, speaker, and motivated young man. Check out his website when you get the chance to learn more about his story!