Cancer battle takes man to world's peaks
Climb for Cancer has raised almost $1 million to fund medical research.
Published: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.
Ron Farb's eyes crinkle at the corners and well up with tears as he remembers Jonathan, an 11-year-old boy who recently died from cancer.
Jonathan attended Farb's sports camp for cancer patients and their siblings the last three years. Farb's wife, Dianne, gently pats his leg and gives him a moment to collect himself.
He wipes his eyes, apologizes for getting choked up and continues.
"It's the tough part," he says. "You just have to remember that you're making a difference in their life and that's the important thing."
If eyes are the windows to the soul, Farb is sending out a message loud and clear. Helping cancer patients and their families is what he lives for.
Ron and Dianne Farb have seen firsthand the ravaging effects of cancer. They both have had immediate family diagnosed with some form of the disease.
In 2002, the couple cofounded the Climb for Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization run out of a room in their home, as a way to combine Ron's love of mountain climbing with their desire to fight against cancer.
By getting donations for each mountain Ron climbs, the foundation has raised almost $1 million for cancer research and local programs.
Donations can be given per foot climbed or in a lump sum. He has climbed mountains in every continent and reached five out of the seven highest peaks.
In fact, on Saturday Ron left Gainesville to begin his ascent up Mount Aconcagua - the highest mountain in South America, part of the Andes in western Argentina. It's his second time climbing Aconcagua, each time benefiting the Climb for Cancer Foundation, and this time he won't be alone.
Former UF football player James Smith will be right beside him.
Ron's love of mountain climbing is so strong, the Farbs, who were married in 1995, have spent two anniversaries apart.
"He was on Denali for our seventh wedding anniversary, and he was on Everest for our tenth," Dianne says.
Ron was born in New Jersey and graduated high school in 1963.
In 1968, he served as a combat pilot in the Vietnam War, commanding 121 men at the age of just 23.
Even though he says the Vietnam experience was "horrible," Ron said it gave him a leg up on other young men his age who had no idea what they wanted to do in life.
After resigning his commission, Ron began his foray into the apparel business, working for Izod, Ralph Lauren and Cole Haan.
Ron currently works as a sales representative for Mephisto, a walking-shoe company.
"That job pays the mortgage, but the foundation is what feeds my heart," he says.
Dianne is a Jacksonville native who used to run the administration side of an ophthalmology practice. She graduated from the University of Florida Levin School of Law in 2000, and is now an associate university counsel for Research and Health Affairs at UF.
While she was still in law school, she and Ron would commute back and forth between her apartment in Gainesville and their home near Jacksonville-a trip that totaled around four hours each weekend.
"It was exhausting," she says. "It basically felt like my weekend was nothing."
Tired of traveling, the couple built their dream home in Haile Plantation almost five years ago.
"Before, we lived right on the beach," Ron says. "Our backyard was the Atlantic Ocean, and people said we were crazy for leaving and coming to Gainesville."
Dianne says you couldn't make her move back.
The love that Ron and Dianne say they have for the Gainesville community shows in their efforts to expand Climb for Cancer's impact throughout Alachua County.
"They are the kind of people who really put their heart into everything they do," says Dr. Bill Slayton, interim division chief for pediatric hematology and oncology.
"We are very fortunate they are here in our community."
During the first two years of the foundation, the Farbs sent all money raised to the American Cancer Society in Jacksonville.
Wanting more control, they now choose to fund programs based on basic needs that they say big foundations often overlook.
The couple recently started Harriet's Helping Hand, a program that provides parking vouchers, food vouchers and gas cards for cancer patients and their families. The idea came about during a lunch meeting with Jenna Priest, child life specialist at Shands Pediatric Clinics.
"They wanted to do more," Priest says. "These kids come for chemo daily, or once a week, and they have to pay to park every single time. I told them how much it was going to cost, and right away they said 'We are going to work on that.' "
Many patients have to bring medicine home with them after treatment, some even travel as far as Miami without a way to keep the meds from spoiling.
To rectify this problem, Climb for Cancer donated coolers, thermometers and medicine boxes for patients.
"These families haven't had time to think about needing a thermometer," Dianne says. "Some of them can't even afford it."
Out of all the events Climb for Cancer puts on in the community, and all the small ways the Farbs help ease costs for cancer patients and their families, being able to inspire and teach others means the most, Ron said.
Each time he speaks with young people in the community, he said he tries to teach them two things.
"The first is that through hard work and patience they can bring their dreams to fruition," he says. "The second is the importance of giving back."
As for Saturday's start to the trek up Aconcagua, former Gator James Smith is right there with Ron. Smith, a former Buchholz High student, played on special teams and as the long snapper for the Gators' 2008 national championship team.
Interested in Ron's mountain climbing, Smith worked with the foundation while he was in college through the Goodwill Gators.
After Ron scaled Mount Everest, however, Smith said he approached him about becoming more involved.
"He has such a warm heart and really believes in his mission," Smith says. "He helps so many people, especially the kids; he loves the kids and gets attached to them."
To prepare, the pair have been running sets of stadiums with weighted backpacks. At 240 pounds, Smith is worried about keeping up with Ron, who weighs about 100 pounds less.
"He's a motor, that's for sure," Smith says. "He's intense."
Once back in Gainesville, Ron will continue to immerse himself in the fight against cancer.
Every day he wears a bracelet from Camp Sunshine, a summer camp in Georgia for children with cancer where he volunteers.
Working with those children has deeply touched Ron, whose sister has been diagnosed with cancer. So far she is one of the success stories.
After a movie about muscular dystrophy, "Darius Goes West," aired at the Phillips Center, the Farbs invited all the volunteers, cast and crew over for dinner as a way to say thank you.
With both of the Farbs working what amounts to two full-time jobs, they concede they have little time for leisure activities.
But "we are working on spending more time for ourselves," Ron says with a chuckle.
Comments are currently unavailable on this article