Scott and Toni Faerber built a model Jewish family together. Day school, summer camp, family-oriented weekends — "We worked hard and played hard," says Scott. He ran a couple of successful businesses, based, he says "on customer service and a hands-on passion for business." He and Toni successfully imparted their Jewish values to their three children: Zachary, 15, Noah, 12 and Emma, 9.
A few years ago, Scott, 44, felt that he was in his prime. "I have always taken care of myself physically. I've always eaten the right foods. With my kids, I stressed the importance of physical health as well as mental health." Part of his motivation is that a number of his relatives, including grandparents, have died of cancer.
Among his other activities, full-contact ice hockey gave him the opportunity to let off steam on a regular basis. "Playing men's ice hockey at night is not what your average Jewish guy does," he says proudly. He was actually on his way to a hockey game one night when the pain in his abdomen caused him to change course and head for the hospital. With no warning, no previous feeling of being ill, he was diagnosed with stage 3 Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Scott began chemotherapy. "You either roll over or you attack it, and we chose to attack." Scott and Toni also chose to keep their children involved in their father's fight and not to hide anything from them. The Faerber kids took on extra responsibilities, learning how to do laundry and taking care of the dishes.
Despite complications from the chemo, including hospitalizations for pulmonary embolisms and pneumonia, within a year his cancer was in remission, and he was eager to put his illness behind him. Unfortunately, the victory was short lived. "The hardest thing that I had to do as a parent was tell the children that my cancer was back," says Scott. "They knew what that meant, because they went through the process with me."
It wasn't just Toni and their kids who supported Scott in his battle with cancer. "The Jewish community was so involved in our fight," Scott says. "We got tremendous support from people telling us that they had gone to the hospital to donate platelets because they heard somebody needed it. They didn't know who it was for. They never met me. The Jewish community blew us away with their involvement."
"It changed our perspective. Yes, we supported Jewish family services or Federation throughout our children's upbringing. We had always given to the cause, making whatever donations we could and being involved in whatever way we could." Now, Scott and Toni felt they were being paid back tenfold for what they had given.
"There were people bringing hot meals to us every night without our having to pick up a phone and ask for anything," Toni says. "If we needed play dates for our children – whatever we needed, there were so many people willing to volunteer to help us."
Eventually, Scott was unable to work, and now the family faced additional grave consequences. Not only were they concerned that they might lose their husband and father—they were also worried that they might lose their home. "Through the Federation we were blessed with so many different things, and one of them was an attorney who helped us with the issues around our foreclosure. He was available 24/7." The attorney's accessibility was a godsend to Toni, who was swamped with the work of running the house and handling the finances, in addition to coping with her husband's illness. "I began to learn how to deal with all of those issues myself," Toni said. "I think the experience has made me a stronger person."
When Scott came out of the hospital and began to get stronger, normal life began to resume for the Faerbers. Scott has been able to resume work, although Toni too is going back to work in order to share the responsibility. Though Scott's unable to participate as actively in sports as before, he's taken on a different role, coaching his kids and others.
Toni reports, "Some positive things have come out of this experience. Scott is closer with the kids. He and I have also become closer. He's been able to slow down and appreciate every little thing in life. He's learned how to be grateful."
She adds, "The Jewish Federation embraced us and bolstered us at a time when were completed without. It was an incredible blessing for us."