Bob Riter has never been one to seek out the spotlight. He is most comfort- able sitting on his couch with a cup of coffee, reading the local newspaper.
He enjoys watching rowers glide by on Cayuga
Inlet, a stone’s throw from his quiet Ithaca,
New York, home.
“I’m actually most comfortable by myself,”
Riter, 62, says. “I like to be a lump on the
couch with a good book, and my dog ignoring
me to the side.”
Riter’s desire to avoid the limelight may
seem at odds with his former role as executive
director of a cancer patient advocacy orga-
nization, but an ability to make connections
and offer his support, without overstepping or
offending, made him a natural fit for the job. He
came to the role via an unlikely path: In 1996,
Riter was one of an estimated 1,400 men diag-
nosed with breast cancer in the U.S. that year.
“It was a big surprise to have cancer,” says
Riter, who was 40 years old at the time. “But as a
man, to have breast cancer was doubly surprising.
I think we all have a mental list of things to worry
about, and breast cancer wasn’t on my list.”
Riter, then an assistant professor of health
services administration at Ithaca College,
wanted to learn what he could about his
diagnosis. “I always feel better if I under-
stand what’s going on,” he says. On the day
he learned he had cancer, he stopped by
the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance (IBCA),
a patient support organization started in
1994. The volunteer he spoke with promised
to find information specific to breast cancer
in men and gave Riter reading material
about what would later be his treatment—
mastectomy and chemotherapy, followed
After completing his treatments, Riter
returned to IBCA for a support group to help
him deal with “post-treatment blahs,” he says.
“The time after treatment is isolating when
there are no more doctors’ appointments or
Breast cancer survivor Bob Riter forges connections
among people affected by all types of cancer.
BY MARCI A. LANDSMANN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY HODGES