20 Years – A Letter to Max

Each year on October 19th, Max’s Day, we honor Maximiliano “Max” Rivarola and his legacy of lifesaving support for cancer survivors through the work of The Max Foundation. This year, on Max’s Day at The Max Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, I wrote a letter to Max, reflecting on what his legacy has meant for patients, advocates, caregivers, and partners around the world. I now wish to share it with all of you, our global community of supporters who do so much to help people face cancer with dignity and hope.

Seattle, October 19th, 2017

Dear 17-year-old Max,

When cancer took you away from us with all your life ahead of you, I felt a deep sorrow that words cannot describe. As time went by and reality set in, the sadness for a life interrupted stayed with me, as I knew that the world was going to miss out; never being able to benefit from what you would become.

I still remember your 17th birthday; we were so happy when the doctor said that you could come home for your birthday. Not strong enough for big crowds, people came in small groups to visit you: friends from school, neighbors, family, friends. And then so many people called you from far away places: Italy, Mexico, Argentina, other cities in the US and I remember you called it the best day of your life. Knowing that people from far away places in the world were sending you their love filled up your spirit and gave you great joy.

Today I must tell you that since that time, Max, that seed of love around the world that you felt on your 17th birthday has grown, and in the past two decades you have achieved more than I could have ever imagined.

Through Maria Isabel in Venezuela, you saved the lives of 176 people. You were relentless and didn’t take no for an answer until your friends were able to access treatment.

And a few years later you brought hope and love to children in pediatric wards all over the world with Maximo and the Big C through our dearest Fan in Malaysia. Max, I have seen the glimmer of hope come back to their eyes when Maximo encourages them to have a mission in life.

Through Sohag you have been working hard in Bangladesh to make sure people eat a nutritious meal of sweet potato. Through Lucy in Solomon Islands you enjoy playing the trombone and taking care of 5 children; through Rosario in Mexico you grant wishes to sick children; through our dear Boukary in Niger you made real change by advocating for access to diagnostics; what a force of nature, your buddy Boukary. Through Tony you continue to bring the gift of song to the world; your spirit shines so brightly through Tony that you inspired his song “You”; and who can forget how you loved to sing! Often these days when I hear your brothers play music, I close my eyes I can still hear you.

And this reminds me of another person whose life you influenced, Max. I borrow from Viji to share this part of your story. I don’t have to tell you who Viji is since through her you have poured love to thousands of people in India for the past 15 years. Viji recently shared with me about a young friend I will call Prab “whose eyes still haven’t lost that naughty gleam”, she said, “that lit up his 14-year old face when he first walked into the Max office with his hospital file more than 15 years ago”. I imagine him walking into the office, same age as you when you also were newly diagnosed and had to start carrying your hospital file as well.

Recently Prab visited the Max office again, a 30-year-old man now, and reminisced about the time of his diagnosis: “neither then nor now, Amma ji, does this Cancer thing frighten me” he said.” I love my job and I am so thankful to my family for encouraging me. I have a complete musical group and we play at all religious functions and community events. I feel a very powerful energy within me when I play the Dholak and see the happiness with which people dance to the beat and rhythm I create.” So you see, Max, that energy that Prab feels when he plays music, that energy is you.

Dear 17-year-old Max, today I can say that you have changed the world more than I could have ever imagined. You live with us and through us and we feel your spirit in every action we take. Day in and day out you light a spark in each of us and I know you care especially for our dear partner physicians who work under the most challenging circumstances and do their best for each and every patient. You are a wonderful reminder of the power of each of us to make a difference, even in the most difficult circumstances. You have tapped deep into people’s humanity and have succeeded in expanding people’s capacity to love and to have compassion for each other. Your name has become a symbol of hope, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

We started The Max Foundation because your departure didn’t feel it was the end; there had to be more, it was just not possible to move on, and I could have never imagined a future without you. And we will continue the work of The Max Foundation for the next 20 years and beyond, for as long and as strong as we possibly can; and forever, for us, every patient will be you and every family member will be us.

Dear 17-year-old Max, thank you for allowing us to continue to work through you and thank you for always being there when we need you.

From the ageless Max who lives through the humanitarian work of everyone in this room and thousands all around the world.

Maximiliano “Max” Rivarola lived with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) for three years before passing away in 1991 at the age of 17. The Max Foundation was established in his honor in 1997, and his legacy inspires our vision for a world where all people facing cancer live with dignity and hope. This letter was written by The Max Foundation’s CEO and stepmother to Max, Pat on the 20th anniversary of the creation of The Max Foundation.

Make a donation today to give the gift of life to people around the world who are facing a cancer diagnosis. Together, we will continue the work of The Max Foundation for the next 20 years and beyond, in the spirit of Max who lives on through all of us.

Pat Garcia-Gonzalez

Pat is CEO and one of the founders of The Max Foundation.