Last winter, two Pikesville families, the Fishers and the Hakims traveled to Philadelphia to visit what’s commonly known as the Rocky Steps, a site universally recognized for its role in the Academy Award-winning film “Rocky” and its four sequels. A popular tourist attraction for “Rocky” fans, climbing the Rocky Steps has come to symbolize the completion of a spectacular accomplishment. The families had come to witness exactly that — a feat far more remarkable that the one performed by Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, in the iconic films.
They were there to witness 46-year-old advertising copywriter Daron Fisher, diagnosed with a brain tumor on June 20, 2010, climb to the top of the stairs. The event was the culmination of months of intensive physical therapy Daron received from his friends, Ellen Wruble Hakim and Daniel Hakim, both physical therapists, as well as the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Beth Fisher and children, Alana, 11, and Emory, 8.
Tragically, Daron succumbed to brain cancer in August 2013, but not without a valiant fight. He is survived not only by his family and friends, but also by a legacy — a nonprofit organization he cofounded with his wife called Keep Punching.
“He [Daron] was always using boxing metaphors,” said Fisher, 41, who said the couple met in 1996 at an advertising agency, where they both worked. They were married at Beth El Congregation in 1999.
“One day my husband told me a story about an uncle of his who was a media promoter,” said Fisher. “He gave Daron a press kit for “Rocky II” autographed by Sylvester Stallone. It was signed, ‘To Daron, keep punching.’”
Daron took these words to heart.
“Throughout his illness, Daron opted for the most aggressive treatment and never stopped fighting,” said Fisher. A copywriter for MGH Marketing, Daron and his business partner are credited with creating the famous Utz Snacks/National Boh-emian Beer’s “Where Baltimore Gets Engaged” campaign for Smyth Jewelers.
After being diagnosed, Daron underwent two surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation treatments before he finally went on disability in February 2013. Later this month, said Fisher, he will be honored with a lifetime achievement award by the American Advertising Federation.
Because of their careers in the health-care industry, the Hakims were able make sure their friend and his family received the very best in medical care and equipment. Ellen Hakim also made sure to accompany the Fishers to every medical appointment.
“Someone needed to be there to hear what the doctors were saying,” said Ellen Hakim. “I have wonderful colleagues who pointed me toward the best doctors. I knew people who knew people, and I had enough of a medical background that I could talk to and understand what the doctors were saying and interpret the research.”
“You have to know how to do the research.” she added. “I’m not talking WebMD and Wikipedia. Daron fought to the bitter end, and he lived twice as long as he was supposed to. He wanted to be here to be with his family and his kids, and as long as he wanted to fight, we fought with him.”
One of the doctors most instrumental in Daron’s fight was Dr. Fabio Iwamoto, a neuro-oncologist at Columbia University (N.Y.) Medical Center.
“One night,” Fisher said, “Daron and I were talking and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could start a nonprofit to support the research Dr. Iwamoto is doing?’”
Before long, plans for Keep Punching were set in motion. By February 2013, the paperwork for nonprofit status was submitted, and the Fishers held Keep Punching’s first fundraiser at Frazier’s on the Avenue in Hampden in March 2013.
“We raised more than $20,000 that day,” said Fisher. “Daron was able to sign the check.”
Since his death, Daron’s family, the Hakims and the board of directors of Keep Punching have continued to raise money. Alana, Emory and their friends have formed the Keep Punching Junior Team. Most recently, the Junior Team staffed a booth at Pikesville’s Quarry Festival in September, raising more than $1,000, which was matched by an anonymous donor.
On Oct. 18, the Fishers and Hakims will again take a road trip together. This time, they will visit Dr. Iwamoto at the Columbia University Medical Center to present him with a check from the children.
“My kids haven’t met him yet, but they feel as if they know him. We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation,” said Fisher, who noted that they have also received emotional support through HopeWell Cancer Support in Lutherville.
“When we realized Daron couldn’t beat the cancer, we thought he might as well live every day to the fullest,” said Ellen Hakim. “He was able to get the best of the best, because the Fishers could afford the co-pays and [the] alternative medical care and holistic treatments that ins-urance wouldn’t cover. When he needed equipment such as a cane or a brace, we had the connections to get it for him. Through Keep Punching, we can make a difference for those who are less fortunate and don’t have access to what Daron got. It can improve the quality of life for others.”
“We’re also able to support doctors with their research,” she added. “Especially now, with all the government cutbacks, the doctors are so appreciative.”
To learn more about Keep Punching, visit keeppunching.org.
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter — email@example.com