Rallying for Robb: Tahoe area shows support for Robb Gaffney’s fight with cancer
The Tahoe community is rallying behind Robb Gaffney, an influential skier and activist for the Keep Squaw True movement, after he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow cancer over the summer.
“It’s pretty devastating,” said his brother Scott Gaffney. “He’s such a healthy individual and anyone who climbs mountains with him around here knows he’s just a machine.”
This spring, the 48 year old began to struggle while climbing and hiking, according to close friend Renee Koijane. After suffering from increasing symptoms, lab tests revealed dangerously low blood counts of white cells, red cells and platelets. He was later diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome with Blasts, a rare form of bone marrow cancer, leaving him dependent on blood transfusions.
“Transfusions are keeping him alive right now,” Scott Gaffney said. “He seems like a generally healthy guy but it’s all because of blood transfusions.”
DONORS ‘SAVING HIS LIFE’
Robb Gaffney’s condition requires a bone marrow transplant in order to recover and doctors initially tested his siblings to see if they were a match. While both of his brothers were a match for each other, they weren’t a match to Robb.
“Time isn’t on your side really. We just wanted to find that match and get things going,” Scott Gaffney said. Last week they found two donors that matched.
“The people that are donating bone marrow for my brother are saving his life,” he said.
Last week a GoFundMe page was set up to help his family cover his medical costs. In the six days that the page has been active it has raised nearly $55,000.
“Every donation brings a tear to my eye. It’s been huge,” Scott said. “Part of me feels a little bit of guilt because there are a lot of people who go through this and maybe don’t have that reach to get this kind of support. But he needs it right now.”
While Koijane said Robb has insurance and a well-paying job, he won’t be able to work for awhile after the transplant and his insurance may not cover all the medical expenses.
“Robb and the family were very reticent to have a GoFundMe because it’s hard to ask for money,” said Koijane. “But we knew that as soon as we put the word out things would roll in because he’s so well loved.”
HOW TO HELP
Both Robb and Scott Gaffney have been well known in the skiing community for their various ski films including “G.N.A.R. the Movie.” The film brought Robb’s book “Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines” to life in a fun filled, high stakes competition at Squaw Valley in 2010. Most recently the brothers worked to produce “The Movie to Keep Squaw True” which focused on preserving the natural beauty of Squaw Valley.
Robb will soon be heading to Texas, where he will stay for four months, for the transplant. After the surgery, according to the GoFundMe page, he’ll complete a year of chemotherapy in Truckee.
“He’s talked about living through his 90s through the love of your sport,” said Koijane. “This is just a bit of a hiccup but he’s going to come out stronger.”
In addition to the GoFundMe effort, the Tahoe Art Haus in Tahoe City will host a fundraising event on Oct. 3 for Robb, screening two of Scott Gaffney’s films “1999” and “Immersion,” which both featured his brother. At the event Koijane said they will be providing swab kits from Bethematch.org, a worldwide marrow registry, allowing people to take a cheek swab and get entered into the donor pool.
“We want to make sure that the donor pool stays really full because it could be anyone of us that needs this in the future,” she said.
Friends and family are also putting together a community wide raffle with outdoor gear and gift certificates from local businesses. Raffle tickets can be purchased at the Crest Cafe in Alpine Meadows, Granite Chief and the Backcountry.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or email@example.com.