Meet Ben: Jewish “Cancer-Slayer” of the Week!

by Allison Friedman / November 29, 2017

Ben Rubenstein is one of the most fascinating Arlingtonians (that’s a word, right?) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my time in the DMV. To elaborate on that bold statement – he’s a published memoir author, decade-long blogger, beer travelog-er, enthusiast of living life in the present moment, and tattoo aficionado. Plus, he hates hummus. Which is just super interesting in itself. Read on to get to know this really amazing human. 

9.14.17. Ben, his brother, and his sister-in-law’s dog – celebrating 16 years since finishing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma.

Allie: So, your cancerslayer blog is incredible. How did it get started? 

Ben: In college, I got a literary agent for a book I was writing called “How I Became a Cancer-Slaying Superman Before I Turned 21.” At first, my book didn’t get picked up by publishers, so my agent suggested I start a blog to get noticed. I did, and she was right! My book actually got published in 2010. After that, I continued with the blog, because it was a great outlet for me, and I’ve been blogging for 10 ½ years now.

Allie: Wow. So, after your book got published – did any cool opportunities come your way?

Ben: Children’s National Medical Center invited me to be a part of a book signing, which was a really cool experience. One of the first times I went, I met a boy there who had the same kind of cancer I had (bone cancer). He was so appreciative of meeting me. In his room he had a superman picture he drew on his wall and it said “I am a cancer-slaying superman” that was based on his book.

7.19.17. Ring of Kerry in Ireland, visiting as a part of his MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Allie: How did you get into writing in the first place?

Ben: Well, between the ages of 8 and 20 I wrote one story. It was about Scottie Pippen playing basketball against an extraterrestrial. Then, at 20 I had a job at Hollywood Video and decided, out of nowhere, that I wanted to write a book. That night, I got home at 1 am, started writing, and didn’t stop. Now, I’m a writer professionally and am just about to finish a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine. I work one-on-one with a faculty member there, and can do that from the comfort of my apartment in Arlington, VA.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Ben: I grew up in Manassas, Virginia and then went to UVA for college. My only time living out of the state was when I received a bone marrow transplant in Minnesota, which took four months. Then I moved to Arlington, which is the first place, besides the house I grew up in, that ever really felt like a home.

Allie: Besides writing, what are your favorite ways to spend free time?

Ben: I love to rock climb. Once, while at George Washington University for a “Cancer– Slayer” book signing, I learned about a group called First Descents that offers free adventure trips for young adults impacted by cancer. I decided to go with them to Moab, Utah, and rock climbed there for the first time. Since then, I’ve been with First Descents to Colorado, Tanzania, and different places in Virginia to rock climb, hike, and explore. 

I also love movies – a hundred times more than I like to read book. And, I’m a big fan of my do-not disturb button on my phone because I like the idea of single tasking.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food? 

5.21.17. Rock climbing at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, with friends from his First Descents group.

Ben: I’m on a mega health kick. I think without realizing it, I decided to be as healthy as I possibly could so I could prevent getting cancer ever again. There’s mixed research on if diet can be a cause of cancer, but I like to believe I can do something to protect myself. I’m surprised the Jewish religion hasn’t kick my out yet because I don’t like hummus, gefilte fish, and don’t even eat bread! But, one thing I’m not willing to give up are my IPA’s.

Allie: So, you’re a pretty big beer lover, huh?

Ben: Well, when I started my health kick I was drinking solely whiskey neat because it has the least sugar and calories, but definitely missed beer. Then, my brother showed me an app called “Untappd” where you log different beers each time you drink one. Soon after discovering this app, I went to a brewery-hopping weekend in Boulder, CO and started putting it to good use. The app gave me a sense of accomplishment every time I tried a new beer. The app became a travelog, adventure-log, and beer-log all in one. So far, I’ve tried 1,280 beers.

7.15,17. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

Allie: How does Judaism play a role in your life?  

Ben: Every morning and night, I say the shema, in the morning I thank God for being healthy, and I think about the gratitude of being able to stay healthy given what I’ve been through. At night, I say it again and ask God to look after my family and friends who might need some looking after.

Allie: What your best piece of life advice?

Ben: Well, I have three tattoos with different wisdom. One, is an image of my perception of my tumor when I was 16 years old before treatment, it’s just an ugly big blob. The second is a fig tree, which reminds me of health and cleanliness and that there is always another day to live a clean life. The third is a koi fish which makes me think of the National Institutes of Health, where I got treatment for my first cancer, because they had a lot of these fish in their waiting room. It reminds me of perception.

Beyond the tattoos, I think about time a lot. None of us have unlimited time. It’s up to us how we choose to spend it. We have to make sacrifices to take advantage of that time, even in how we spend our leisure time.

For example, I no longer watch TV shows with story arcs, because in 2 hours I can get a wonderful, complete story in a movie. I log all the movies I watch and books I read with apps like LetterBoxd and GoodReads, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I think by tracking things, I feel like the things I do matter.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Ben: They congregate around the hummus.


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