Who Are You Calling 'Inspiring'? | WBEZ
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Only Human

Who Are You Calling 'Inspiring'?

At 24, Max Ritvo has a lot going for him. He's a gifted poet with a teaching job at Columbia University and a manuscript that he's shopping to publishers. He's a new husband. He's a comic in a darkly funny experimental improv group. But he's also a cancer patient whose prognosis isn't good.

Max was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma when he was 16. He got the news after going to the hospital with a fever and a pain in his side. The doctors at first thought it was pneumonia — but then Max woke up in the cancer ward.

Only Human's host, Mary Harris, with Max Ritvo after an interview session. (Molly Messick/WNYC)

"I remember thinking, 'This is so terrible! I'm just a young, acrobatic, wiry, handsome bloke of sixteen!'" he says. "'And they must have run out of beds elsewhere, and they're putting this virile healthy young man with a great crop of hair among all these decrepit old people with cancer milling about. And it's so sad for them.'"

Max finds humor not only in the hard story of his diagnosis, but also the way we talk about illness. He jokingly calls himself an "inspiring cancer survivor." It's a genuine effort to make us laugh — and it's a reminder that we should be better and smarter than the usual platitudes.

Watch Max's "guide to health, fitness and fun."


Many of you listening have your own experiences with cancer — and the experience is different for everyone. Tell us your story. Leave a comment here or visit our Facebook page.

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