Campbell Dale is one tough 4-year-old
Thursday, April 17, 2014 1:00 AM
Campbell Dale couldn't wait to get there.
MSU players and coaches pray over 4-year-old Campbell Dale after Sunday’s game.
Then again, the four-year-old son of David and Jill Dale can't wait to get anywhere. He and his twin sister Avery were even born seven weeks early.
But this weekend was special. It was Super Bulldog weekend, and his favorite school, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, were playing host to the Ole Miss Rebels in Starkville.
Campbell loves baseball, and pulls hard for his father's alma mater. Like most preschoolers, he loves to play, attend games and run around under the bleachers with the other kids.
Unlike most preschoolers, he can't.
Seven weeks ago, he was diagnosed with Stage Four Rhabdomyosarcoma - a particularly cruel type of cancer that affects children's muscles. The past two months have been consumed by tests, chemotherapy, one major surgery, set-backs and countless unanswered questions.
His parents had to pull him from his class at Trinity Preschool, and have spent untold hours with their son at Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson, where they see, on average, 3-4 cases like Campbell's each year.
A few weeks ago, surgeons removed 4.5-inch tumor from his abdomen, only to find that the cancer had spread to his bone marrow. They recommended he start intense chemotherapy immediately, and he now spends even more time at the hospital.
Because chemotherapy would be impossible if he gets sick, Campbell can't be around other children or in places where kids might have left germs.
That's what made the start of last weekend even more special.
As Ridgeland Recreation and Parks were finalizing preparations on Friday for the first weekend of KidFest, special arrangements were made so that Campbell and Avery could enjoy the festivities. Thanks to Ridgeland Parks and Recreation Director Chris Chance, the husband of Campbell's preschool teacher, they offered to open the gates and let the duo play.
"There's a lot that I do in this business that's very rewarding," Chance said. "But to be a part of something like that is very special. I hope it meant something to that family because it meant a lot to all of us."
Campbell and Avery were in hog heaven. They rode the pony, watched the magic show, ran through the fun-house - the whole nine yards.
The only person happier than the twins might have been their mother.
"Just to see him out there laughing and playing..." Jill Dale said, trailing off. "It's been hard. He's only four, so he doesn't understand the extent of what all this means. He's just out there playing."
That weekend, his parents made the decision to take the family on a road trip to Starkville. They had talked about it all week. David wanted to go, but after several tests in the last week, Campbell hadn't felt well.
But when Sunday came and the little guy was fired up, the family piled up in the car and hit the road.
It became apparent, soon after arriving, that Campbell was going to have trouble walking. He'd had two bone marrow aspirate and biopsies in the past week, causing him pain from weakness in his bones. Jill and David took turns carrying him, careful not to let him get too close to too many other children. All the while, Campbell looked around, taking in the sights and sounds of Super Bulldog weekend as only a 4-year-old can.
"You could tell he was excited to be there," David said. "We got to do things he doesn't really get to do, like eat in a restaurant and take in a baseball game."
All day they walked around campus. It was beautiful. The kind of day every athletic department dreams about when planning a spring sports weekend like this one.
Shortly before the baseball game, the foursome ran into a family friend and Bulldog Club member near "The Hump" and decided to use his connections to get in touch with Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin. Stricklin heard what was going on, and called his marketing team to set up a meeting with the team.
David and Campbell were told to go to the third base dugout as soon as the game ended. They did, and before they knew what was happening, Mississippi State marketing associate
Rhett Hobart was leading them through the bowels of Dudy Noble Field toward the Bulldog locker room.
"Any time we get a request like that, we're going to do what we can," Stricklin said afterwards. "None of this stuff we do is because of us. If you ever get that attitude, you're in trouble. You're burying your talent if you do. We do this for people like Campbell."
When they entered the room, they were greeted by sullen faces. Ole Miss had just dealt the Bulldogs a 12-2 loss, their second loss in three weekend games. The players knew they were likely to drop out of the national rankings, and faced a tall task to climb back atop the SEC West standings.
"I just wanted to introduce you to my son, who is a Bulldog at heart," David said. "He wanted to meet y'all."
With tears streaming, the father told the team of Campbell's diagnosis, and how proud he was of the bravery his son had shown.
Suddenly, the game didn't matter. The record and standings didn't matter.
Everything had instantly been put into perspective by a little boy in a maroon T-shirt.
"So here my teammates and I are feeling sorry for ourselves, like our life is awful," junior pitcher Ross Mitchell wrote afterwards. "Then we get to meet this little boy. He became such a beautiful reminder to us about how blessed we are."
The team bowed their heads and prayed over Campbell. He received a baseball signed by all the players, and he got to meet his favorite player, first-baseman Wes Rea.
"He may not be able to process it all right now," his mother said.
"But it will make for a beautiful memory and a great story some day."
When David returned home, he tweeted his thanks at the official Mississippi State baseball twitter account. He got a simple response: "You're part of the family, no need for thanks."
On Monday, it was time to go back to the hospital. The first few days of the week were tough - intense chemotherapy usually is, even on adults.
The success rate for treatment of this particular cancer is 20-40 percent, and Campbell is part of a relatively microscopic group of patients. Of the 300-400 cases of Rhabdomyosarcoma in the United States each year, only 2 percent have the cancer spread to their bone marrow as Campbell's did.
Still, he's staying up-beat.
"He's just a kid, he doesn't know he's supposed to be sick," David said. "He had surgery on Valentine's Day - that was a Friday - and we left the hospital and by the next Friday, he was riding his bike around."
Meanwhile, he's being treated by some of the best doctors in the country, and getting famous.
David set up a twitter account (@CampbellBulldog), and as of Tuesday morning Campbell had over 150 followers. Chief among them Stricklin and the Bulldog's All-American closer Jonathan Holder.
The outpouring of support, Jill said, has been overwhelming.
"We've been so blessed by the people who are praying for us," she said. "We've gotten letters from families in Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. They've sent us cards saying they have heard our story, and that they are praying for us. It's really cool to see how people have rallied around Campbell."
He's learning, albeit not as quickly as he was in preschool. David and Jill play some educational games to keep what he's learned fresh in his mind, but they aren't home-schooling him. He's got a milestone birthday coming up on Sept. 29 and he's looking forward to rejoining his classmates when all of this is over.
For a while, David said he and his wife questioned why their son had been stricken with the terrible disease. After Campbell's big weekend, their answer is starting to come into focus.
"It's amazing to see God using this little boy, who doesn't even know he's being used, to touch the lives of others," David said. "He's touching people in a way that I could never imagine. It's like Campbell is reminding everyone of what is important in life, and he's setting an example. He's a tough little kid. He's a fighter."