Workers aid family battling cancer

By Kathy Day

Herald Writer

Relief filled Dave Campbell’s day Friday. He learned he was not among the 1,300 or so Boeing workers who got layoff notices, and his 13-year-old daughter, Lacey, finished radiation treatments for brain cancer.

Although the Oak Harbor resident still thinks he might be among those who eventually will face the jobless ranks as Boeing continues cuts in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he and his family can relax a little.

His greatest joy came from knowing that Lacey could take a break from shuttling back and forth from hospitals and doctors’ offices as the cancer that she has battled since June is in remission.

And thanks to about 100 of Campbell’s co-workers in his 767 work group, the family’s days will be better than they had anticipated. Tuesday, they greeted Dave Campbell and his wife, Michelle, with a full load of wrapped gifts and gift certificates for food and clothing — even dinner out.

"That’s something they really need, a break from the stress," said Marty Latendress, one of Dave Campbell’s supervisors. "We took care of their entire Christmas."

Dave Campbell said he was a little embarrassed his family was picked.

"I’m still working," he said. "Many others out there don’t have jobs.

"But they were pretty insistent," he said.

Beth Johnson, who helped spearhead the effort, said, "This year, for a change, we wanted to help one of our own."

Usually, she added, they adopt several needy families in the community.

Dave Campbell has been with the company for five years, joining Boeing after leaving the Navy, where he worked on planes based at Whidbey Island before retiring.

He’s been waiting for a layoff notice since word came about the cuts. Based on seniority dates, he figured he would be on the list that came out Friday. If he eventually gets laid off, he said he will probably go back to school.

But that’s been the least of his worries. Last spring, Lacey repeatedly told him and his wife that she didn’t feel well. She’d get up at night four or five times to get a drink of water, but neither parent noticed the frequency.

Lacey has always been small, another fact they hadn’t given much thought, he said. At first, when the complaints began, they thought she was making excuses. Then, when she started complaining about headaches, they took her to a doctor.

After a battery of tests and referral to an endocrinologist, they discovered a rare type of tumor that affects only about 350 people a year, Dave Campbell said. Although doctors initially thought the tumor was benign, they found it was a cancer called germinoma.

"We learned a lot about the body," he said. "It was a crash course."

Two weeks after the June 7 diagnosis, Lacey was in surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Soon afterward, daily chemotherapy trips began, causing Lacey to lose all of her hair and gain 20 pounds. Now, she’s just finished a month of radiation treatments at Group Health in Redmond. The family planned to celebrate Friday night.

Her hair has started to come back, Michelle Campbell said, but Lacey is still very shy about her appearance and doesn’t want many people to see her, and especially doesn’t want pictures taken.

Through Lacey’s ordeal, both Dave and Michelle Campbell exhausted their vacation and family leave time, and eventually Michelle Campbell took a leave of absence to care for Lacey and shuttle her to treatments. Now that the treatments are done, she’ll soon head back to her job as a letter carrier in Oak Harbor, where the family lives.

"So far, we’ve been holding it together, gearing for her remission," Michelle Campbell said.

"Hopefully, this is it," she added late last week.

While the cancer is now in remission, the teen-ager faces lifelong medication, because the chemotherapy "annihilated her pituitary," her father said.

"She’ll have lifetime issues — growth hormones, steroids, she’s got diabetes insipidus," he said.

Lacey, who doesn’t like to talk about her illness even to others with cancer, is being tutored at home and still hopes to complete eighth grade with her classmates, her mother said.

The wear and tear on the family’s bank account has taken its toll.

"It’s a crunch, with Christmas," Dave Campbell said. "But when your kid gets sick, it doesn’t matter."

Lacey is one of four Campbell children. Jason, 15, has been a trooper, his dad said, helping when he can and being a pal to his younger sister.

The Campbells’ 18-year-old daughter, Lindsey, doesn’t live at home, nor does 21-year-old Brian, a college student. He’s been told he’s going to have to pay his own way now, so he worked this summer and is trying to get loans, Dave Campbell said.

"It’s been tough on them," he added.

Still, Dave Campbell said he has been overwhelmed by the support of his co-workers.

"It’s given me a new outlook — people taking care of each other — it’s pretty touching," he said.

Campbell disagrees that employees are just a number at Boeing.

"The truth is, a lot of people in management were workers first. They didn’t just turn into somebody else. They have heart and soul."

Herald Writer Steve Powell contributed to this report.

You can call Herald Writer Kathy Day at 425-339-3426

or send e-mail to kday@heraldnet.com.

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