Volunteer Spotlight: Bob Ferber
When you have cancer, the Cancer Support Community is your lifeline to beating the disease. The doctors keep you surviving, but the Cancer Support Community makes survival worthwhile. ~Bob Ferber
When Bob Ferber, a recently retired animal rights prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Animal Protection Unit, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 1999, he thought it was the worst day of his life.
“There’s this overwhelming smothering feeling of loneliness when you’re diagnosed with cancer,” Bob says. “I felt like the only person cursed with this disease, like I drew the short straw. I would be on the freeway and looking around and assuming no one else had cancer because they all looked so happy.”
Though Bob believed support groups had merit, he was reluctant to visit the Cancer Support Community because he did not believe anyone else would understand what he was going through. When he arrived for the first meeting, however, he was surprised to realize he was not alone in his fight.
“Although the first meeting had its depressing and scary parts, it was an inspiration,” he says. “There were people at different levels struggling with this life-threatening illness. I realized there was a whole world of people fighting cancer, all at different stages, and the Cancer Support Community uniquely brings those people together. After that meeting, I slept well for the first time in days.”
Bob’s support group became a second family that enlarged his support system of family, friends and neighbors. As a group, they helped each other get to treatments and found the strength to laugh together when they lost their hair. Throughout the process, Ferber considered the Cancer Support Community his home away from home, and sometimes his primary home.
After declining a life-saving bone marrow transplant because it would keep him away from his entourage of rescued pets indefinitely, Bob was accepted into the last opening in the nation for a UCLA clinical trial. Even though the co-inventors explained that the drug would not be life-saving and that he would die if he did not do the transplant Bob refused to give up his animals and stayed on the new drug. To everyone’s surprise, the experimental drug, later named Gleevec, did work on Bob and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2001. Thanks to Gleevec, he has had no evidence of cancer for 14 years! Bob returned to work as the first full-time animal cruelty prosecutor in the country.
Bob and his rescued pet menagerie now visit the Cancer Support Community’s Kid’s Circle to help kids who have a parent or grandparent with cancer. He talks about how animals are often treated differently or seen as worthless because they are sick or injured, and how animals understand grief.
“We talk about how animals grieve when they lose a friend, and about how they know when one of their friends is sick,” Bob says. “The kids can relate to that.” The kids (and their parents) learn that just as Bob finds it rewarding to help needy animals, kids can find hope and inspiration by having a role in their parents’ cancer journey.
Bob has also been doing orientations for new participants at the Cancer Support Community for the past ten years, finding it both inspiring and rewarding. Bob was recently honored by the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center with their annual “Hope and Inspiration” award and was the keynote speaker at their donor recognition dinner.
“If I die tomorrow, I will have lived a much better life than if I had stayed around another 30 years and never gotten sick,” Bob says. “This experience with cancer has opened up a new life for me, a life filled with one miracle after another.”
Bob recently remarked that he sees his volunteering as, in some ways, very selfish. He is continually moved by the attitudes of the new members. They give him hope and inspiration as he has done for many others.