Sandy and Lance Campbell have dedicated their lives to making an impact on the lives of young people.
As a result, the Oakdale Joint Unified teachers now find themselves on the receiving end, as OHS Alum and former wrestlers of Campbell’s rally to support him and his family. Lance was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in mid spring. His prognosis-terminal; his fight-strong.
This Saturday, July 29 the inaugural Lance Campbell Benefit Dinner will be hosted at Blooming Camp Ranch in Oakdale, scheduled from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets for the event are $40 with all proceeds benefitting the family, as well as a future scholarship.
The event was put together by past wrestlers Jarod Pitassi and fellow former wrestling mate Adam Wong. Both men were coached by Campbell during his time as wrestling coach at Modesto Junior College. The third organizer is former Oakdale Citizen of the Year, Jo Harris.
“This is all about Lance,” Jarod said of his former wrestling coach. “It’s a crappy situation,” he continued. “I want him to know that he’s appreciated. I want Daniel to see and know when he’s older that his dad was loved and made a big impact.”
The Campbells share one son together, Daniel, who is 11 and entering into sixth grade at Sierra View Elementary School.
While the family is excited for the inaugural benefit, it is certainly not something they saw in their future. Lance first began experiencing undiagnosed symptoms last November. What began as mumbling, loss of voice projection and trouble breathing eventually led to tests, tests and more tests with no real answers.
“I knew something was wrong,” Lance said of the early vocal struggles.
His wife Sandy shared, “He had some dental work done to I thought at the time maybe the dentist hit a nerve or something.”
A return trip to the dentist, however, did not result in any change.
By start of the new year the family faced two MRIs, PET Scan, and a spinal tap among other things.
“Everything came back clear,” Sandy said.
By March, Lance was regularly experiencing muscle twitching and his left arm was noticeably weaker. With no clear diagnosis, in spite of exhaustive testing and countless doctor visits, he turned to Google. All symptoms steered them to ALS. In April the couple traveled to the ALS Clinic in San Rafael and received a confirmed diagnosis.
“When he would take off his shirt his muscles were literally twitching,” Sandy said of his upper body, as well as his face.
While prognosis is three to five years, Lance has been affected by two types of ALS Bulbar Onset being first, and the latter, Limb Onset. According to the couple, Limb is typically the first to hit patients. Bulbar tends to have a shorter prognosis time line.
“It’s really hard because I was the strong one,” Lance said of his current state. The deterioration of his muscle strength has resulted in the need for a walker. He relies on Sandy and his son Daniel to help with his everyday needs.
His time as a teacher, wrestling coach, active father and husband is now a memory.
The largest hurdle on the couple’s plate to date is care for Lance when Sandy and Daniel return to school. Later this week, he will be fitted with a feeding tube to prevent choking while eating. As days go by, his needs become greater.
“I didn’t know you needed long-term health care insurance,” Sandy said of the one and only insurance she opted out of for their family. Noting the family has every other conceivable insurance offered by their coverage.
While Lance will qualify for disability, that doesn’t cover the cost of in-home care. Due to the family’s current income, they don’t qualify for any county programs.
“He’s getting to the point where he’s going to need someone to take care of him,” she said. “He’s going to get worse and he’s going to need monitoring for his breathing.”
As the couple struggles to make heads or tails of what’s to come and how the family will adjust, they have been gifted with so much love and support that it’s offered tremendous light in a seemingly dark time.
“We’ve been very lucky that all the teachers at Sierra View have been very supportive,” Sandy said of her campus family.
Through the organization and determination of fellow teachers Cheri Martin and Stacy Graham, the family of three was treated to a VIP experience at Disneyland in June for Daniel’s 11th birthday. A trip complete with front row seating, red carpet treatment, spending money and hotel accommodations.
“They knew that this might be our last summer,” she said with emotion, “so they organized that trip and it was amazing.”
Now the couple looks forward to Saturday and an opportunity for Lance to be surrounded by his boys who have turned to men. Past teammates from his wrestling days, as well as men coached by him are expected to join the community fundraiser.
“I love them,” Lance said, acknowledging Adam and Jarod’s efforts.
Lance himself first became bit by the wrestling but at the age of 17.
“It’s hard,” Lance said. “It mirrors life… the struggle.”
Echoing the sentiments of his past coach in a separate interview Jarod said, “You gotta be tough. You gotta be first and Lance was the first to teach me that.”
Jarod continued, “That’s something I’ve never forgotten. He’s done a lot for me and he doesn’t even know it.”
Sandy said, “We’re just appreciative of Oakdale as a whole. This community really is something special.”
Lance concluded, struggling to keep the tears at bay, “I grew up in Modesto, but Oakdale is home.”
For additional information on the Inaugural Lance Campbell Benefit Dinner or to make a donation, visit the Facebook page by the same name or call Jarod Pitassi at (209)605-0552.