In March 2001, when he was 10-years-old, Max Levine came home from school complaining of hip pain. We thought it was growing pains. His pediatricians thought it was loose joints. And the rheumatologists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) thought it might be Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.
But in October of that year, Max was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a relatively rare pediatric cancer. At that very moment, our entire world was turned upside down
After a biopsy, Max started the first of five difficult rounds of high dose chemotherapy at CHOP. Liz Scott says it was during that first round that Max and Alex met in the playroom of the inpatient oncology unit. Little did we know then what a profound effect that meeting would have on our lives.
After the five rounds of chemotherapy, Max underwent a stem cell transplant. At one point, we were told to prepare ourselves for the worst. An infection had landed him in the Intensive Care Unit. But much to everyone’s surprise, Max made it through and was soon dubbed “Miracle Max” by the PICU nurses.
After more than 7 months of intense treatment, Max’s doctors declared him “in remission.”
But it didn’t last long. By November 2002, it became apparent that the neuroblastoma was back.
Once again, Max began chemotherapy. Unfortunately, there is no cure for relapsed neuroblastoma, and no set treatment, just a series of trials and off-the-shelf chemotherapies. Max took it all in stride. He learned how to take everything one day at a time. He continued going to school through these new treatments. He still did all the things he loved – he played video games, went to summer camp, and went to amusement parks to ride the most frightening roller coasters in existence.
He had the opportunity to meet the people who make The Simpsons, as a friend arranged for Max to attend a table reading in California, where the actors read the script aloud for the first time. Later, he was invited to attend the world premiere of The Simpsons Movie in Los Angeles. Even a case of the chicken pox could not keep him away!
Max was also able to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah with almost 200 of his closest friends and relatives in attendance.
For six full years, Max lived relatively easily with his cancer. But by the fall of 2007, it was becoming obvious that Max was losing his battle with the disease. His doctor was running out of treatments and Max was running out of time.
In April 2008, at the age of 17, Max passed away at home, surrounded by family and his beloved kitties.
Through all of his treatment and pain, Max never let cancer define who he was or what he wanted out of life. Even the day before he died, he sat watching TV with his best friend Matt, a cancer survivor himself, laughing and joking. He was in pain and felt terrible, but he could still laugh.
Max didn’t let his disease stop him from traveling, going to school or creating incredible art. It didn’t stop him from playing video games or hanging out with friends. It didn’t stop him from being a wonderful son, brother and friend.