Walking is difficult and his appetite has yet to return, but Dan Campbell continues to ride an indoor bike to put some distance between him and cancer.

The longtime, beloved coach of cross country, track and skiing teams throughout the area refuses to stand down and put his life on hold despite an on-going battle with a disease that won’t let go. He is digging in heels and facing the long haul with unbridled optimism. He is still looking forward to trying to qualify for the Senior Games in September.

Hope and enthusiasm are evident in Campbell’s voice over his cellphone as he and his wife, Shari Boyce Campbell, traveled back to Maine after a visit with doctors from Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts, where physicians gave Campbell some “good and confusing news.”

‘FEELING STRONGER NOW’

“Shari and I are still processing that news,” Campbell, 69, said from his car. “I am feeling stronger now because I have been on chemo for seven weeks now. They really wrecked me bad. I have never been this wrecked before. It almost killed me. It was that close.”

Several doctors are discussing a variety treatment options such as surgery or more chemo, and as Campbell said: “They are all not on the same page (for treatment). They are all on the same page that something has to be done. They just don’t know the best way to do it.”

He said a tumor has to be removed from his throat “and they have to look for more cancer in the different parts of my neck.”

Campbell adds that surgery would be the most intrusive, but there is another option — radiation/chemotherapy.

“If we do the surgery and it doesn’t work, it could easily go right back to do radiology and chemotherapy — and that is even worse because it becomes that much more complicated,” Campbell said. “So they are going back to the drawing board and I am going to go under an MRI … and we are going to sit down with a couple of surgeons and we are going to discuss what the MRI is showing.”

Cancer has forced Campbell — who has at Edward Little, the University of Maine at Farmington and, most recently, St. Dominic Academy and Thomas College — to think about his career path even though his fight with the disease is not over. He realizes coaching, one of his lifetime passions, might be out of the question.

“As much as I love coaching, I just don’t see that piece happening and being able to fight this cancer,” he said.

STANDING BY, AND FOR, HER MAN

Shari has experienced months of stress and heartache helping Dan recover until the next treatment.

“You know, I am frazzled,” she said. “It has been a rough, frigging year. There are days when I escape to my job because I can find laughter — and I don’t have to think about cancer, and I don’t have to think about all the stuff that is going on. I can just do my job and make jokes with the people around me.

Dan Campbell and his wife, Shari, have found signs of encouragement and hope during Dan battle with cancer this year. Tony Blas/Sun Journal

“I have days when I watch my husband basically just disintegrate before my eyes to where he can’t walk from the bed to the toilet, and I have to hold him up. The person I see that I basically figured he can do just about anything — physically, emotionally — and I am watching him unable to take one step. And knowing that there is nothing you can do to help other than be present, is very difficult.”

She said every family experiences a crisis, but, she adds, “I think we all have bad times, but this is the longest bad time I have ever had.”

Shari’s emotions run the gamut and she sometimes feels trapped — and there is no escape from what is happening to her husband. 

“I think, because I have never been this close anybody that has gone through this level of treatment, you don’t have a clue what people go through,” she said. “He can cycle for 15 miles, but he can’t walk 2 miles. The energy that it takes to walk, and I am not sure if it is because he is lifting his own body weight, it is more difficult for him than it is for him to ride 21 miles per hour for an hour.”

Through it all, Shari is seeing glimpses of light and feeling hopeful as Dan gets stronger through a combination of his treatment, raw determination and stubbornness.

Doctors told Shari that both cancers were curable, which renewed her hope for a positive outcome.

“That’s kind of what we try to look at and try to focus on at the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, “so that on those days and in those moments when it is really, really tough, we look at each other and say, ‘This too shall pass. It is not going to feel like this forever.’”

A ROUND OF ENCOURAGEMENT AND HOPE

There is good news for Campbell. He said the cancer in his chest cavity and stomach is in total remission.

“The tumors are all gone right now — 100 percent gone,” he said. “I am still tired a lot, and that could be like that for a year or more.”

He adds that even though he is not hungry, his taste buds have returned and he can now taste food.

“Basically, because I am in starvation mode, I eat a lot,” he said. “I think I have put on 13 to 15 pounds the past six weeks.”

So Campbell will wait to see what his best options are in the next clash with the disease. But he looks and sounds better, and his indoor cycle is a lifeline to his physical and mental health.

Dan Campbell won’t allow cancer to keep him off the indoor bike at his home in Auburn. Campbell, a longtime high school and college cross country and track and field coach, plans to attempt to qualify for the Senior Games in September. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal

“Check this out; this is the good news,” Campbell said with a laugh. “I’ve been training in cycling everyday even though I have been sick as a dog. I am in my gym. I am cycling. I am lifting three times a week. I have cycled almost two-and-a-half months straight. I haven’t missed a day. By the looks of it, I might be able to at least try to qualify for the Senior Games on Sept. 19.”

He asked doctors to back off until after he makes his attempt to qualify for the Senior Games. He wants to compete in the sprint and the 20K.

“I feel v ery blessed that the chemo worked for me,” he said. “We attacked it hard so the cancer backed off. I am doing everything I can to live a normal life. We are taking a beating because I can’t work. That’s the hard part. 

“I say this because we can’t let things like this put us down. Cancer not just destroys your family, it destroys your activity level and things you love to do — if you let it.”

Campbell said the cancer has made him and his family stronger and closer.

“We went on vacation,” he said. “We had a good time with my family. We brought friends into the vacation. And it wasn’t like OK, ‘This is our last hurrah.’ It is like, ‘OK, let’s do this next year.’

“This whole (illness) has made our family stronger, and to me, it brought out the community in a wonderful way.”

Dan said all the support and assistance has meant a great deal to him and his family.

“I can’t thank them enough because they are the ones that inspired me,” he said. “When I am feeling down and I get these letters and text messages, it just lifts me up. I am almost going to be disappointed when the cancer goes away.”

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