Ron Haberle has been cancer-free for the past 17 years, but his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was diagnosed at 19 still inspires him today. Haberle has created a local nonprofit called PeppedUp! that brings fun technology, such as gaming systems and tablets, to kids who have cancer. For almost the past 2 years, PeppedUp! has helped deliver gadgets such as iPad‘s and PlayStation Vita‘s to kids all over the country, and last year, PeppedUp! raised more than $45,000 to give kids the opportunity to play something fun during a challenging time. Haberle, a 38-year-old Chandler resident and Woodbury, New Jersey native, works as a senior software developer for iMemories during the day and has donated more than $15,000 of his own money to the PeppedUp! cause. Head to the Dos Gringos Cinco de Mayo block party in Old Town Scottsdale Sunday, May 5, since proceeds are benefiting PeppedUp! Read on to hear more about the nonprofit, as well as to see a video of Haberle talking about his five favorite things about the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
An ex-girlfriend. I always wanted to move to California, and when I was younger, I said I would move to the West Coast if I could. My fiancee at the time wanted to go into graduate school, and her second school on the list was ASU. We didn’t wind up together, but I like the West Coast lifestyle more than the East Coast lifestyle. I was born in Woodbury, New Jersey. The people here are a lot more laid-back. The weather’s nicer. I love the scenery, the open skies.
Tell me about your experience with cancer.
When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was living with my parents when I was going to art school, and my aunt came over and noticed a lump in my throat. I hadn’t noticed it, but I grabbed on, and sure enough, there was a golf ball-sized lump in my throat.
I went to my family doctor. He came in and kind of gave me a weird look and said, “Hold on.” He called in another doctor, and the other doctor came in. They both gave each other weird looks and left the room. They came back in and said, “We’d like to schedule a biopsy on your lump.” I said, “OK,” and didn’t know what that meant.
I went in and had some cells cut out of my neck, they ran some tests and found out I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which attacks your lymph nodes and your immune system. It starts in your neck and under your arm pits and then spreads to your groin, and then starts attacking liver, pancreas and your organs. I was diagnosed between Stage 2 and Stage 3. A couple weeks after my diagnosis, I started chemotherapy. I did a couple cycles of chemotherapy and started my radiation treatment at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.
How did you not notice the lump in your neck yourself?
I don’t know. I didn’t feel it. How many times do you press up in your throat area on a regular basis? Now, I do every day in the shower, I’m always feeling for lumps. My aunt is someone who notices everything. If she hadn’t have pointed it out, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it until I got really sick, and it would have been a lot tougher to beat.
Is there any history of the cancer in your family or any cause to it?
No. Most of the time, the cause is hereditary, but since it’s not in my family at all, I personally think it’s due to something in the water in New Jersey.
What was your battle with cancer like?
I was at an art school called Antonelli Institute in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, studying to be a storybook illustrator. I had to rearrange some classes for my chemotherapy, but they were really accommodating. It was almost 2 years of going through chemo.
How does your cancer affect you today?
I go to about three doctors a year for check-ups. I’ve been in remission for 17 years.
What motivated you to start PeppedUp!?
The idea started about a year and a half ago. I wanted to do something for kids. When I did my chemotherapy, I did it with people who were in their 60’s and 70’s. I had my Walkman I’d listen to, but there wasn’t much to do, and it’s still that way today.
How has PeppedUp! evolved over the past year-and-a-half?
We raised about $45,000 last year, and we’re hoping to do about $80,000 this year. We’re in the process of applying for grants and working with organizations, such as the Phoenix Coyotes.
What’s the donation process like?
Donations now come mostly from corporate sponsors and venues that help us out. We raised about $4,000 from individual donations last year.
Why focus on technology with this project?
Being involved in technology and a big kid myself — I have an XBox, Playstation and Wii, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and a smartphone — I love gadgets. When I had cancer, I had art, which allowed me to stay busy with my hands and sidetracked. Games are joyful and fun and give you a sense of accomplishment. I might be tired or not feel well, but I want to get up and finish that game or finish that movie and do something tomorrow.
What kinds of kids are you helping?
All of the kids have had some type of cancer. A lot of them have leukemia, and we see some kids with rare blood disorders or brain tumors.
Who are some of the most memorable kids you’ve helped?
We’ve had four of the kids we’ve helped pass away. Those have been really tough. We had one kid who had leukemia and didn’t know what he wanted — he was feeling so bad, he didn’t really care. We got him a $600 gift card to GameStop for a shopping spree, and 3 days later, he got moved to hospice care for kids. His uncle went out and bought a Nintendo DS and games for all the kids who came and visited him.
What are your long-term goals for PeppedUp!?
My long-term goal is to be an arsenal for kids who have to do battle. There are about 13,000 kids diagnosed with cancer a year in the U.S., and I would really love to get a tablet or gaming system into the hands of every single one of those kids.