On the field and off, cnacer faces determined foes

This Just In . . .

October 15, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

BY THE TIME Eric Davis hit that game-winning home run in Cleveland Monday night, Jim Campagna had gone to bed. He goes early these days - 8:30, maybe 9 o'clock at the latest. The sun goes down, so does his energy supply. He gets headaches. He has hot flashes and breaks into sweats. Cancer of the lymph nodes will do that to a man, even when he's only 29 years old.

If he wants to continue to work each day and support his family, Jim Campagna has to get to bed early. It's the only way.

So Monday night he missed a golden inspiration on the TV screen - Eric Davis, the lean but muscular Orioles outfielder, four days after chemotherapy, standing at bat as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of the fifth game of the American League Championship Series. Campagna was asleep when Davis took that long stride and wicked stroke and sent the ball into the left field stands at Jacobs Field. Davis' home run made the score 3-0. The Indians scored twice in the bottom of the ninth. In the final 4-2 score, Davis' perfect swing had provided the margin of victory.

He had given the Orioles new life in October.

And he had given everyone who lives with cancer - the patients, their families, their friends, their co-workers - a huge dose of hope.

Of course, Davis does that by his mere presence in an Orioles uniform.

But a decisive home run in a critical game? That kind of accomplishment flies high above anyone's expectations.

"God bless him," Jim Campagna said yesterday when I told of how Davis' home run had been the run that mattered most the night before in Cleveland.

He might have missed Davis' home run, but he hasn't missed what he calls "the positive outflow" of the Davis story.

And while Jim Campagna's situation - "Two doctors have said it's terminal, and a third said that I should make the necessary preparations" - appears to be much darker than Davis', and while he lives a world apart from the highly paid professional athlete, he still connects to him.

"He set a goal, and I have a goal," says Campagna, who is a correctional officer - a tough job even when you're healthy - at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson. "Eric Davis' goal was to make it back to the Orioles' lineup [after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his colon]. The object for me was to keep from being depressed, to get out of bed each day and to go to work. And look at the support [Davis] has received from the fans. Look at the support I've been getting from my co-workers. I can't believe the amount of support I've been getting."

Friday, his co-workers from the Detention Center will throw a $15-a-ticket fund-raiser dance for Campagna and his family. They've set up a relief fund at First National Bank of Maryland, too.

"We've had the conversation about him not being able to work one day," says Sgt. Dave Berry, who joined other correctional officers to help Campagna. "It's a very sensitive thing. I'm his friend, but I'm also his boss. The day will come when he can't work, and I've told him he's got to be honest with me and tell me. ... There already have been times when we've had to pull him off post because of the pain he was in. And then the next day he'd be fine again and come back to work. He amazes me. I picked him up from work this morning and he was chipper."

"I take a little from Cal Ripken, too," says Campagna. "What was he performing at? Only 20 percent, with his bad back? But he overcame that. He still showed up every day."

The cancer was discovered in Campagna's body about a year ago. He had numerous tumors removed in operations in November and June. He has been through several weeks of immunotherapy. With the cancer having spread from lymph nodes to other organs, Campagna has resorted to experimental treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He has used up a considerable amount of sick leave from his county job.

Between treatments for the cancer, Campagna works as much as he can. Yesterday he was assigned to an observation post in a minimum-security area. He arrived at work about 7:15 a.m.

"Not too bad, a little rough," he said in a soft voice when I asked how he was feeling seven hours later.

Campagna works as much as he can because he doesn't have much choice. He makes $27,000 a year; he feels he has to keep a paycheck coming as long as his health holds out. Campagna has a family - his wife, Irene; two daughters, Brittany Rose, 4, and Tabitha Lynn, 21 months - and a modest townhouse condominium in Edgewood. He doesn't have mortgage insurance. He doesn't have disability insurance. He has some life insurance.

"Jim doesn't say very much; he keeps a lot in," says Berry. "But I know the man's scared to death, worried about his family. That's why we're having the dance."

"They're trying to keep me from worrying so much," says Campagna. "I've never had anybody do so much for me and not ask anything in return."

Berry says, "His attitude just blows me away. A lot of people don't want to think about this because they're scared. We're all scared. I know Jim is scared, too. But he keeps coming to work. I wonder how I would handle this. Would I be sewn up in self-pity, or would I come to work? Jim just keeps coming to work. ... He's a good guy, a helluva guy."

Today's Indians-Orioles game starts in the late afternoon, as Jim Campagna's shift ends. When he goes home, he'll turn on the TV and see Eric Davis and hear the fans cheering his courage against cancer. Maybe a little of that energy will flow Jim Campagna's way. I hope so. He deserves it.

The fund-raiser for the Campagna family will be at 8 p.m. Friday at Tall Cedars Hall, 2501 Putty Hill Ave., Parkville. Music will be provided by disc jockey Leonard Foy. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the door. Refreshments will be served. Information: 410-887-2141.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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