Laura Greco with her husband, Tillman Nechtman, with their sons Rhys and Fletcher during their trip to Kangaroo Island and Australia this summer, where they got to meet this Koala named Alfie. Greco, who is battling lung cancer, and Nechtman became the visible faces of the Re-Igniting Our Faith campaign at St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs. (Photo provided)
Laura Greco with her husband, Tillman Nechtman, with their sons Rhys and Fletcher during their trip to Kangaroo Island and Australia this summer, where they got to meet this Koala named Alfie. Greco, who is battling lung cancer, and Nechtman became the visible faces of the Re-Igniting Our Faith campaign at St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs. (Photo provided)

This is a story of faith, perseverance, advocacy and love.

Laura Greco, along with her son, Rhys, walked away from a horrific car crash that nearly sheared their minivan in half, only to find out during trauma scans that she had lung cancer. That was almost five years ago. The cancer went into remission for nearly 15 months, but returned as fierce as ever. She has taken genetically engineered cancer inhibitors but they are not a cure.

Greco, however, continues to fight.

 She has become a fierce advocate in the battle against lung cancer, which is the No. 1 cancer killer of women and men in the United States. November is Lung Cancer Awareness month and,  according to the American Cancer Society, 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer every year have never smoked or ever used tobacco just like Greco. She also raised $700,000 from fellow patients to study the specific genetic mutation that caused her cancer. 

Laura and her husband, Tillman Nechtman, are also fierce advocates for their parish — The Church of St. Peter’s in Saratoga Springs. Greco and Nechtman were the visible face of the Re-Igniting Our Faith (ROF) campaign that raised 120 percent over its stated goal. They shared their strong story of faith and how the church and church family supported them every step of the way through Greco’s cancer ordeal.

 “The message of the cross is … it’s a pretty weak faith to tell us bad things aren’t going to happen,” said Nechtman. “Faith tells us that bad things are going to happen and we have a way of transferring them into something good. And that is the message that we try to give (the kids) and Laura has used it as an advocacy tool in the lung cancer world. Because it is rooted in faith, it translates back to the church, as well.”

St. Peter’s Church has been the “rock” of the Saratoga Springs community for nearly 180 years, guiding its parishioners through world wars as well as economic and social strife. And the story that Greco and Nechtman shared resonated with the parish.

“Tillman talked about when he heard the worst possible news that he could hear about the cancer diagnosis for Laura, how St. Peter’s was there for them and how it became a port and support for their family,” ­Father Thomas Chevalier, pastor,  said. “They were right there to share that story and throughout the campaign that was one of our principal stories. “And they were generous in sharing that and, of course, the parish found it very powerful. They talked about things they got from the parish in times of sickness and it was quite touching.”

In Greco’s speech the last weekend of the ROF campaign, she referenced Exodus 17 in which Moses is praying during a battle, which she read as a lector the Sunday after her cancer returned and had spread to her brain. Whenever Moses lifted his arms in prayer, the Israelites were winning, when he dropped his arms they struggled. Greco told the parishioners in her speech she could relate to the passage; she would prevail if she prayed, but if she tired, she would falter unless the community helped her pray. That is what St. Peter’s has meant to her; the community held her up when she was too tired to raise her arms during her battle with cancer. 

And that is why, while some people balked originally at the ROF campaign, Greco’s and Nechtman’s response was an emphatic yes to make sure the parish that has given their family so much would get the necessary upgrades. Sure, the money could help in fixing the leaky roof, but Nechtman saw other ways the campaign could succeed.

“It was a chance for us to do something that is really concretely evangelical,” he said. “Having the money is great, but we’ve now had six parishioners come up on the altar and talk about their faith. I don’t think Catholics are terribly good at that. I don’t think the modern world really encourages that. “But to have people stand up and say this is what this parish means to me … this is how my faith inspires me, I think that is re-igniting. It encourages other people to do it. If we are Christian and Catholic in the world, it should be visible, it should be tangible, it should be right there on our sleeve.”

Nechtman, history department chair at Skidmore College, also looked at it from that perspective. “When whatever happened in the past happened … St. Peter’s was there,” he said, repeating the words that became a refrain for the campaign. When the abuse scandal in Pennsylvania broke, and some questioned if the parish should even be doing the ROF campaign, Nechtman remained undaunted. 

“This is the time,” Nechtman recalls saying. “The Catholic Church has brought America schools, hospitals, orphanages. None of those institutions would have existed. .. We are re-igniting our faith so we can get back to our roots and the good that we have always done in the world.”

Even their children Rhys, now 10, and Fletcher, 7, have ­gotten into the fundraising mode, helping to organize a dress-down recently at St. Clement’s School, which raised $1,000 for the Lungevity Foundation, which funds cancer research, education and support. 

When the ROF numbers started rolling in, Nechtman could only describe them as a “miracle.”

And it is also a miracle the family hopes for when it comes to Greco.

“We are miracle people; we believe in them,” Nechtman said. “And (Deacon) Brian (Levine) at St. Peter’s has told us that God likes his miracles really obvious. If we get the miracle we have asked and prayed for, it only becomes more and more obvious … but if we don’t and the worst happens, the children know that faith is their way through this.

“If we do our one small part to make sure the parish is thriving, then it will always be a place for people to turn to.”