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CAROLYN RUBENSTEIN | G Force

A voice for cancer survivors

Carolyn Rubenstein, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Harvard, has written a book about the experiences of 20 young cancer patients. Carolyn Rubenstein, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Harvard, has written a book about the experiences of 20 young cancer patients. (Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe)
August 31, 2009

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Few people’s careers are set into motion at age 6. But that’s what happened for Carolyn Rubenstein, whose family spent a week at a camp in Maine, owned by friends, for children with cancer. Rubenstein later volunteered at Camp Sunshine and, while new in high school, started a nonprofit corporation to benefit teens with cancer. Now 24 and a Harvard University PhD student in clinical psychology, she’s published a book about the experiences of 20 young cancer patients called “Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors’’; 100 percent of the profits will go to cancer patients and cancer research. Rubenstein, who plans to talk this morning on the “Today’’ show about the lessons these remarkable teens have for the rest of us, spoke recently with the Globe. LIZ KOWALCZYK

Q. You returned to volunteer at Camp Sunshine when you were 14?

A. Yes, it [wasn’t until] that trip I understood what the word cancer meant. Before that visit I was stressed out about grades and the latest gossip in school. My life was turned upside down. I never experienced kids my own age talking about topics such as death and depression and treatments and being in the hospital.

Q. Your nonprofit began as a pen-pal program. Why did you turn it into a college scholarship fund?

A. I saw many of my friends [with cancer] struggle to go to college because of the medical bills. They didn’t want to place the burden on their family by having them pay so much more money to go school. I could not make sense of that. They survived [cancer] and now they have to pay by not going to college? That to me was a complete injustice.

Q. How many teens will get scholarships this year?

A. We give out 100 percent of the money we raise. This year we just had 20 recipients, who will get $1,500 to $3,000 each. We had close to 1,000 applicants this year. We will give out more money in December, depending on how well the book does.

Q. How did you find time to do all this as an undergraduate at Duke University? You graduated summa cum laude.

A. I did not go out on the weekends. I guess I am very good with time organization. I didn’t have a normal college experience.

Q. What lessons do the teens you write about hold for the rest of us?

A. I wanted to figure out how these young children were able to live life so differently. How do we figure out how to get that wake-up call without having to go through cancer? I felt there were common threads. Staying very hopeful regardless of the odds or how bad things get.