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Campbell, HOPE Ball aim for a cure

Cancer survivor David Campbell stands in his office at Merry Acres Inn next to a portrait of his four grandchildren, from left, Campbell, 7, Finn, 4, Grayson, 4, and Dillard, 9. The grandfather is set to be the honoree at the American Cancer Society HOPE Ball on Saturday.

Cancer survivor David Campbell stands in his office at Merry Acres Inn next to a portrait of his four grandchildren, from left, Campbell, 7, Finn, 4, Grayson, 4, and Dillard, 9. The grandfather is set to be the honoree at the American Cancer Society HOPE Ball on Saturday.

ALBANY, Ga. -- A pancreatic cancer diagnosis doesn't often give a person more than a few years to live, much less a high quality of life. But Albany's David Campbell has been able to defy the odds.

Now he is committed to paying it forward.

Campbell is set to be the honoree at Saturday's HOPE Ball, an annual fundraiser conducted by the American Cancer Society.

Almost immediately following his cancer diagnosis, Campbell underwent surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Following his return to Albany, he underwent six months of chemotherapy.

Over the course of the treatment, he lost 55 pounds -- more than 20 of which he has since gained back.

Campbell has had to get a computed tomography (CAT) scan every four months, but for the most part he has been able to return to his normal, everyday activities, which include helping his son, Stewart Campbell, and his partner Bo Henry with the operations of the Merry Acres Inn on Dawson Road.

"I've been very blessed," the elder Campbell said.

Like many cancer survivors, Campbell said the ordeal changed his outlook on life in a big way.

"I look at a lot of things differently," he said. "I don't take anything for granted. It has helped me put my priorities in order."

His own personal experience aside, Campbell said he is helping to back the ACS because of the potential the organization has in making a difference in other people's lives.

"They look at the big picture to help the mass of folks who have this disease," he said. "I look around and realize there are so many in the same boat. Until it happens (to you), you take so much for granted.

"I was really shocked and greatly honored they would ask me to (serve as an honoree). I know a lot about the guts of a kitchen, but I don't know about this sort of thing."

In his remarks on Saturday, the grandfather of four said he intends to impart his newfound knowledge of appreciating the little things more -- and of staying grounded.

"The message I want to give back is that of net value of life over net worth," he said.

That's a lesson Campbell said he learned in boyhood when he contracted polio. To this day, the wheelchair he was in for eight years remains in his office at Merry Acres.

"It reminds me of where I came from," Campbell said.

Since his cancer scare, Campbell has credited the power of prayer as well as the support of friends and family at home for his recovery. He points to the "Caring Bridge" webpage created in his name by his daughter-in-law, which received more than 5,000 hits within the first eight months.

Campbell said that level of support was greatly needed and appreciated.

"With pancreatic cancer, you don't have a long timeline," he said. "It all went by so fast."

The HOPE Ball, which kicks off at the Hilton Garden Inn at 6:30 p.m., has traditionally done well in its goal of raising the funds necessary to continue cancer research and treatment.

Campbell indicated that he wants this momentum to continue.

"I realize that you've got to pay back. That's what I'm trying to do now," he said. "We may not cure cancer, but we can keep knocking it down. From what I was told, the drugs I took were funded and researched by the American Cancer Society. If it were not for (that research), I may not be here."

That fact is Campbell's personal motivator for continuing the fight for others.

"I want to get more and more involved, want to help everywhere I can," he said. "(A cancer diagnosis) opens your eyes to see what you need to do.

"The research is the big picture. The drugs have to be tested. In the end, these are the things that will save a person's life."

His counsel to others is to attempt to see the glass as half-full, and to take the high road.

"I believe in going to the right professionals and listening," Campbell said. "Medicine today is very complex and complicated. You have to talk to the people you know and trust."

Tickets for Saturday's HOPE Ball are $100 each, $125 for VIP Lounge access. The black-tie optional fundraiser includes formal dining, complimentary wine, a cash bar, and both live and silent auctions. For more information, call (229) 446-0986.