More than six years ago, a team of cancer survivors led by cycling legend Lance Armstrong completed a bicycle relay across the nation. William Faia, O.D., still wears a rubber wristband commemorating the day they passed by City of Hope: Oct. 1, 2004.
|Marge and William Faia (Courtesy of William Faia)|
The band is worn and ragged now, held together only through a silver chain his late wife, Marge Faia, used to repair it. He wears it as a sign of how precious life is — and to hold onto the memory of his wife’s joy as she watched the cyclists ride past during her stay at City of Hope.
“She got really excited. You could see her eyes dance around,” Faia said. “It blew her mind. She said, ‘If those guys are going to do that, I can at least get out and enjoy the gardens.’”
The Faias turned to City of Hope for help when she faced an aggressive form of leukemia. Within its quiet spaces, they found hope, a home away from home and a surrogate family that eased their burden. In gratitude for her care, he recently committed to a substantial bequest benefiting City of Hope.
Sweethearts since their days at Lakewood High School in Long Beach, Calif., the Faias were married for 41 years. They built a successful optometry practice in Tahoe City, Calif., and retired early, splitting time between Montana and Hawaii.
Then, in 2004, Marge Faia, already a breast cancer survivor, received a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her physician urged her to see Leslie Popplewell, M.D., at City of Hope and seek a hematopoietic cell transplant.
Her battle with leukemia lasted five and a half years, bringing with it two recurrences, many rounds of chemotherapy and two transplants.
During part of the transplant regimen, patients’ immune systems are unable to fight off common germs usually harmless to others. The time can be difficult and isolating, and Faia estimates they spent three years living on campus in Hope and Parsons Village. Despite challenges, the Faias felt at home thanks to the camaraderie of fellow patients and caregivers, as well as that of the medical team and support staff.
“It was a small community,” Faia said. “Everybody knew each other so well, it felt like family, and Margie told me, ‘This is my home.’ It became a place where she felt secure and comfortable. It was a quiet place to get well.”
The many green areas at City of Hope also provided solace to the nature-loving couple.
“You feel like you’re in a park a lot of times. Marge really appreciated being able to get outside and be around trees and plants, to be around life. I can’t say how important that was,” said Faia.
“There’s the same soothing environment in the clinical facilities,” he continued. “Everyone’s first concern is whether the patient is in pain. And everything was so well-organized; they didn’t let anything fall through the cracks. That was always very comforting.”
The Faias were so touched by their experiences at City of Hope that they decided to include the institution in their estate plans. Although leukemia took Marge Faia’s life in September 2009, her husband remains grateful for the time they shared after her diagnosis.
Said Faia: “City of Hope saved Marge’s life for five and a half years. I would not trade one minute of the time that we were at City of Hope. There were some real hard times, but the majority of the time, it was just life, like anybody else has life, only you’re appreciating it so much more.
“We all take life for granted sometimes. I can’t. I don’t forget what some people go through.”
Visit City of Hope’s How to Help website for more information about the many ways you can help.