Max Ritvo, a poet who chronicled his long battle with cancer in works that were both humorous and searing, died Aug. 23 at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. He was 25.
His mother, Ariella Ritvo-Slifka, confirmed his death.
Mr. Ritvo was diagnosed at 16 with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that affects bones and soft tissue in children and young adults.
Treatment brought about a remission that permitted Mr. Ritvo to finish high school and attend Yale University, where he performed in an improv comedy group. His teachers included the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Glück.
Mr. Ritvo’s cancer returned when he was a senior, but he completed his studies at Yale and this year earned a master’s degree from Columbia University.
His battle with the disease informed his works. A June poem in the New Yorker magazine discussed an experiment in which cells from his tumors were used in cancer drug treatment experiments with mice.
“I want my mice to be just like me,” Mr. Ritvo wrote. “I don’t have any children. / I named them all Max. First they were Max 1, Max 2, / but now they’re all just Max. No playing favorites.”
Mr. Ritvo’s first book of poetry, “Four Reincarnations,” is scheduled to be published this fall.
In radio and podcast interviews, Mr. Ritvo spoke about his suffering. But he rejected any idea that he was a victim of the disease — especially a heroic one.
At their wedding last summer, Mr. Ritvo and his wife, Victoria, banned words such as “inspirational” from the speeches, his mother said.
“He was about love and compassion, human and animal rights and about writing and sharing himself with the world,” she said. “He didn’t want people to see him as an invalid.”
Mr. Ritvo saw humor not as a coping mechanism but as an intrinsic part of dealing with his illness.
“You know, we imagine in our hysteria that it’s disrespectful for the sadness. But when you laugh at something horrible, you’re just illuminating a different side of it that was already there, and it’s not a deflection, it makes it deeper and makes it realer,” he said last month in the WNYC Studios podcast “Only Human.”
Mr. Ritvo also inspired people with his attitude, his wife said.
“Max said ‘I love you’ to everyone. He hugged everyone. He just wanted there to be more love and laughter,” she said.
A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Ritvo was writing until several days before his death and had told his family that the end would be near when he was no longer able to write.
The day before his death, he told his mother and wife: “I can’t write anymore, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe . . . I’m not me . . . You guys have to be okay with me going,” his mother said.
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