From an airplane flying 10,000 feet in the air, Mark Mandelbaum looked out over the fields of Warren County. He wasn’t thinking about the cancer diagnosis that changed his life, although later, he’d think that, without the cancer, he might not have been in that plane. He wasn’t thinking about the other dreams he was working to fulfill: The hip-hop album he’d recently released, or the great job he’d recently taken. He wasn’t thinking about the hours of chemotherapy he’d gone through at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. He wasn’t thinking about riding in Pelotonia, something he still might do, or the money he hoped to help raise to help other people like him make it through their own fights against cancer.
He was just thinking about how cool it would be to fly.
When he jumped, it was better than he’d imagined.
“Like a real-life Superman,” he says now, laughing. “You feel on top of the world, literally.”
Two years ago, Mark Mandelbaum wasn’t sure he would make it to his 30th birthday. He was 29 years old when he noticed a lump the size of an M&M in his throat. He was hungry, but food made him gag. He figured he had bronchitis, or maybe mononucleosis. The thought that it might be cancer never crossed his mind.
So when a biopsy showed that the lump was cancerous, and that cancer cells had spread to the lymph nodes in his chest and arms, he was, literally, speechless as the doctor explained about the classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had attacked his body.
“I couldn’t get words out of my mouth, even though I wanted to,” he says.
Mark and his family started researching his options. A family friend recommended Dr. Kristie Blum, a board-certified hematologist and director of the OSUCCC – James Lymphoma Clinical Research Program.
From his first day at The James, Mark says, he felt like he was a part of something bigger than himself.
The doctors and nurses who worked with him were kind, and welcoming. He felt like he was among family.
“It felt warm, like I was part of something special,” he says. “Other hospitals made me feel like a number. And I don’t like to feel like just a number. No one does.”
In December of 2014, Mark had his last chemotherapy session. He has been cancer-free ever since. And he’s made it his mission to grab his life by the horns, and to inspire others to do the same with their own lives.
“Before my cancer, I was just kind of floating by, trying to find my personal identity and my musical identity,” he says. “Now, I’m making it my mission to do these things before the window closes. It’s do or die now.”
Mark had been writing hip hop songs since he was a teenager, but he finally got down to business and recorded them, releasing an album this summer. He found a job he loves, helping businesses improve their search-engine rankings. He joined a YMCA program to help cancer patients lead healthier lives, and now he spends his free time playing basketball, tennis and softball. He bikes. He goes on long, long walks. And he jumped out of the airplane, hashtagging that adventure #Jump4TheJames
He doesn’t live on much money, but he gives a small amount each month to help cancer researchers at The James, with the hope that his contributions might help someone like him survive their own cancer.
He lives by a personal motto – “Inspire. Thrive. Survive.” He wants other people to live that way, too.
“I don’t want other people to go through what I went through,” he said. “So I give to support cancer research.”