by Benjamin Rubenstein
A friend of mine did not want to celebrate her thirtieth birthday. She hadn’t accomplished what she had expected. She drowned in a void — her hollowness filled with a ticking clock, save-the-date cards, movies and shows with typical American happy endings. To her, thirty was not part of the linear ascent but rather a cliff. “You can either feel young or wise,” she said.
There are many things to count besides years of living. As a boy, I counted my baseball cards, specifically the ones with Ken Griffey, Jr., and Cal Ripken, Jr. I counted the minutes until I was allowed to finish practicing piano. I counted each passed week during summer break, glowing after only one and sulking with only a few left.
When I was sixteen and seventeen, I watched the hour-count-down on my IV pump, rejoiced at the beep, watched the next hour-countdown, and rejoiced at the next beep. I counted the drips of anti-tumor drugs. Some staggered, clumped together, and formed one large drip. Others followed one after the other. I counted down until bedtime so that I could begin again the next day.
I counted the days after cancer surgery until I could eat a Cinnabon and wear my favorite yellow Adidas pants. I counted the minutes until radiation sessions ended and days until I didn’t need any more radiation.
When I was nineteen, with my second cancer, I counted the days until I found a bone marrow donor and both rejoiced and cowered when that countdown ended. After my transplant, I counted the days until I was allowed to step outside my hospital room to read the gossip magazines in the nook. I tallied my vomits and both rejoiced and felt disappointment when they stopped. I wanted to reach triple digits.
I counted the months until I weaned off immunosuppressants and the years until I completed my inoculations and reached my five-year cancer-free marks. I sometimes counted how much of my life was stolen by cancer, how far behind I was and how fast I’d have to catch up. I liked to think treatment slowed cell aging which allowed me to retain my youth, though more than likely my maturity just remained that of a teenager.
Then I counted the medications I stopped taking; the plummet in heartbeats per minute and increase in iron plates during exercise; the decrease in ferritin in my blood and increase in bone mineral density; the body fat I shed; the girls I went out with and the ones I was too scared to ask; the books I finished on Kindle. I estimated my calorie consumption for fat-burning, maintenance, and cheat days. The last estimate is the most challenging and fun.
And I counted the hundreds of thousands of dollars I would need before I could afford a home in Washington, DC; the days lost commuting; the video gaming, pranks, sleep, fun, travels, and adventures lost being a real adult. I counted the Washington Redskins’ losses until I couldn’t count any higher.
I think of my next traveling and rock-climbing adventures; the next new inspiring friend I’ll meet; the next time I’ll think I’m in love three minutes after meeting someone; the next task I’ll help my parents with; the Samsung Galaxy S XXXIII; other uses for flying drones; my future fantasy football keeper players.
I think of how long I’ll live if I keep getting allergy shots and eating cauliflower. Probably 150.
When I was a boy, I hated shrimp and now I could eat Bang Bang Shrimp at Bonefish Grill every day. Timelines and expectations we have set for ourselves can change, too, and like how a horizon changes based on the observer’s position, one viewpoint is not lesser than the other.
I will embrace turning thirty this month and continuing to feel young and unwise — after all, I have 120 more years to learn.
How is this for what made my healing happen?
Junk food, fast food, milkshakes, double milkshakes, triple milkshakes; sports, Redskins, NFL Sundays, baseball playoffs, Derek Jeter; video games, friends coming over to play video games, skipping normal responsibilities to play video games; did I mention milkshakes?
About Ben …
Benjamin Rubenstein began writing his memoir, Twice: How I Became a Cancer-Slaying Super Man Before I Turned 21 while attending college at the University of Virginia where he also began blogging on Cancerslayerblog. Twice was published in 2010, and a year later he began writing his next book for kids, Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man. Before his books were published, Rubenstein never discussed his journeys with cancer, though he now feels that sharing his story has been among his most rewarding experiences. This is his passion and why he chose to participate in I Am With You.