Father’s Day tribute: After many health and life battles, Joe Campbell inspires his family

Headshot of Kate Campbell
Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
Joe Campbell with his grandson Jaxon Luff.
Camera IconJoe Campbell with his grandson Jaxon Luff.

It’s almost a minor miracle the subject of this story is letting me write about him.

That’s the thing about Joe Campbell — the man does not like a fuss, especially when it’s centred on him. He much prefers the quiet life, the simple things, a no-frills, salt-of-the earth lifestyle — his word is iron-clad, his work ethic is even stronger, and he’s happy just to be surrounded by his family and dog.

Once a man of few words, Joe now finds himself opening up. He’s willing to share his story in the hope it may help someone else going through something similarly life-threatening or altering.

Before, talking about your issues could have been seen as a sign of weakness or whingeing. Now in Joe’s mind, it shows strength of character.

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A quick scan of the 68- year-old grandfather’s medical history will likely have you shaking your head in disbelief.

Surely this can’t all have happened to one person.

And yes, he’s heard it all before. He has more lives than a cat. He shouldn’t still be here. How can he still be here?

He’s either supremely lucky or unlucky, depending which way you look at it.

Joe Campbell during his latest chemotherapy last month.
Camera IconJoe Campbell during his latest chemotherapy last month.

He’s had 29 operations in his lifetime — some major, some minor, some lifesaving.

In what he says was a portent of things to come, his first life-threatening emergency happened when he was just 31/2 and was accidentally poisoned when he drank castor oil given to him by a babysitter.

Into his teenage years and 20s, Joe survived three car write-offs — all as a passenger — the most serious of which put him in hospital for six weeks as an 18-year-old.

The most “traumatic” near-death experience came in August 1976 — when his wife Shelley was three months pregnant with their first child. Joe was shot straight through the jaw, in an accident.

It left him on life support, needing emergency surgery and an excruciating recovery that took three months with his jaw wired shut.

He went from 80kg to 50kg on a liquid diet.

Then there are his three bouts of cancer.

The first shocking diagnosis of melanoma came when he was a 33-year-old father of three young girls in 1985.

He had an operation but the cancer returned two years later in his lymph glands, which he had removed.

Thirty-four years later, the big-C returned, this time in the form of bowel cancer. He endured another operation and for the first time, seven months of chemotherapy — which he says he “wouldn’t wish on anyone”. He’s recently completed his last round of chemo, and the prognosis is good. He had his loved ones worried, but Joe has seemingly done it again. But it doesn’t surprise anyone who knows him — he’s not invincible, but the textbook definition of a fighter.

He knows there’s always a reason to keep fighting and “hang on to hope”.

Joe’s motto is “there is always someone else worse off than you so just get on with your life!” He’s had a life of uphill battles — starting out from being put into foster care — but to tell his mighty life story and do it justice would take hundreds of pages.

The former pool installer and concreter doesn’t shy away from hard work — he actually loves it. The job he gained the most satisfaction from was the 19 years spent as the Geraldton Golf Club ground superintendent. He started work as a farmhand after leaving school at 14.

But in many ways, overcoming his health battles has been his most impressive body of work. And he admits what they have put him through has “made me a better person”.

Joe had some strict rules about this story — namely, don’t make it a sob story, or too sappy and sentimental.

Despite his bad days, he knows he has a lot to be thankful for — “a wife of 47 years who has been by my side every step of the way, three lovely daughters, a couple of grandkids — and my dog”.

After enduring financial woes during his early cancer battles, in which he had to start from scratch, he’s clawed his way back to build a good life and can now enjoy a comfortable retirement.

There are other chronic health issues Joe faces on a daily basis “that he doesn’t really want to get into” for this story.

After his last chemo treatment, Joe decided to put a message on Facebook — to mark the milestone and to let anyone out there know if they needed any support, even just for a catch up over a cuppa, that he was there for them. The response he received from family and friends brought tears to his eyes (a very rare occurrence indeed).

Honestly, I was extremely nervous about writing this piece. Because for me it’s personal. As Joe’s youngest daughter, he’s been the person I’ve most looked up to and wanted to make proud my whole life. He’s nearly at the end of yet another health crisis and let me say, no daughter and no family could be more proud of their patriarch. He sets an inspirational example of resilience, toughness and humility, even though he would be the last to admit it.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

There’s plenty more life to be lived and enjoyed yet!

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