On April 28, Kaplan experienced strong discomfort in his chest and stomach, his wife Amanda Kaplan wrote on one of their support websites. The following day, the pain only worsened, and so on the 30th, he and his wife visited the emergency room at John Muir Medical Center, Concord.
After a series of tests that netted normal results, Kaplan returned home. But with further speculation and a CT scan, doctors found a mass near Kaplan's aorta, and on May 4, he was diagnosed with the cancer. Having lost her husband to cancer several years earlier, Kaplan's mother, Sheila, said the news was "devastating."
"However, we were told from the beginning that he had a curable cancer because of how early they caught it and the type," she said. "It makes a difference."
One of Kaplan's close friends created an "I Helped Howie" Facebook page and began to organize events to raise money for the family. Amanda said she was grateful for all the efforts and helped begin a donation site using CaringBridge to keep friends and family members updated about his progress. A growing support group, both online and in the community, has been integral throughout Howie Kaplan's chemotherapy sessions and recovery.
As the medical expenses increase, friends and family members have been donating to his cause. Due to his background in the beer industry, much of the fundraising has taken place at local breweries, including those where he has worked.
Sheila Kaplan also cited his popularity in the San Ramon Valley as a reason for the immense participation.
"Over the years you can hardly go anywhere in San Ramon, Danville, Walnut Creek and he generally runs into someone that knows him ... it's unbelievable," she said.
Just in the past month, Pleasanton's Main Street Brewery and both the HopYard in Pleasanton and San Ramon hosted events to raise money for Kaplan.
"We did 20% of takes from the day," said Sandi McDonell, manager at HopYard Pleasanton and a former colleague of Kaplan. "Howie's probably the sweetest person I've met in my entire life, so it's easy to see how so many people showed up for him." Amanda said the outcome from the HopYard event totaled about $2,000.
Matt Billings, the owner of Main Street Brewery who has known Kaplan for over 15 years when he worked at the HopYard, called Kaplan a "great human being." One employee, Mike, mentioned his always positive attitude.
"All he does is smile ... I never saw him unhappy," Mike said.
Main Street Brewery hosted two nights of fundraising, where for each drink purchased, $1 was donated to the family. Billings said they were able to raise hundreds of dollars, which he hopes will help cover some of the medical costs.
Sheila Kaplan described her son in a similar manner.
"He is a wonderful son, husband, uncle and brother," she said. "He's genuinely a good person. The world should have a lot more Howards."
Other businesses such as the Chicago Metropolitan Deli in Pleasanton provided discounted drinks to attract donors, and Pyramid Breweries, Kaplan's latest employer, also started sponsoring events.
Amanda is immensely grateful for all the support, she said on the donation page, and can only hope for continued outreach from both the Pleasanton and San Ramon Valley communities.
July 12 was to be Kaplan's final day of chemotherapy treatment, Amanda said; doctors have scheduled a CT scan for the following week to check the development of his tumor. Sheila Kaplan says that while the past week was difficult for him, in terms of recovery "he's doing beautifully."
Another fundraising event is being organized by Howie's brother and information, along with updated progress reports, can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/howardkaplan.