Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Breast cancer survivor surprised by happy homecoming at Bucs game

TAMPA — Reina Campbell spent Sunday morning talking about her son.

She told the people around her dressed in pink that he was the reason she was there, the reason her chemotherapy hangover didn't seem so bad and the reason she was wearing a camouflage breast cancer T-shirt that said "Fighter."

During the second TV commercial break of the second period of the Buccaneers game Sunday, Campbell, 55, knew she'd be ushered from the suite at Raymond James Stadium and onto the deck of the Pirate Ship. She knew she'd be recognized for her fight with cancer, and that her eldest son, Capt. Joshua Gunderson with the U.S. Air Force, had sent her a video message from his base in Anchorage.

She knew she wished he could be there.

And then he was.

•••

Gunderson texted his mother earlier that morning, said he'd be watching the game from the Peanut Farm, a bar in Alaska they both liked, and that seemed close enough.

So when the time came, when the booming voice on the intercom called her name, she stepped onto the balcony, a camouflage hat covering her short and thinning hair.

She waved at the sea of clapping fans, then trained her eyes on the Jumbotron.

"Hi mom," smiled her son, snow falling behind him. "I wish I could be there for you today, but I'm proudly serving our country in Alaska. Keep fighting, mom, and go Bucs."

She beamed, then heard someone tell her to turn to her right.

"No way," she thought. "I'm watching my son."

Then she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard a familiar voice.

"Mama?"

•••

The scheming started in July, around the time that Florida Cancer Specialists began compiling a list of breast cancer patients to recognize at Sunday's Bucs game. They needed to have a military connection.

Reina Campbell would be perfect, her doctors thought.

She'd battled and beaten cancer once before, and was fighting it again. Her son, whom she'd told her doctors all about, flew jets for the Air Force. She deserved to be recognized, and so did he.

But he was all the way in Alaska.

"Our imaginations started to go wild," said Dr. Waide Weaver, a family friend and oncologist at Florida Cancer Specialists. They talked about flying Gunderson into Tampa, then having him pilot a jet during the pre-game flyover. But that got too complicated.

"We said, 'Let's not get greedy,' " Weaver said. "Let's just get him here."

So they planned the big surprise in secret, telling only a few family members and Campbell's oncologist, Dr. David Wright, that Gunderson was coming to town. He flew into Tampa on Friday and spent the weekend setting the stage.

He texted his mom about how cold it was in Anchorage. He told her how much he wished he could be there. He wished her luck early Sunday morning as he was, wink, wink, on his way to work.

She believed him.

They hadn't seen each other since July, when Campbell flew to Alaska for Gunderson's 29th birthday. A single mom until she remarried five years ago, Campbell said her kids kept her going.

"We are the three musketeers," she said. "Your body wears out, it does. . . . But you fight for your children. That is what we do."

She found the lump in 2006. Doctors said it was breast cancer. Campbell underwent chemotherapy, then a double mastectomy, then radiation. Within two months of her diagnosis, three other family members were diagnosed with cancer, including her father. It was in his lungs.

He died nine months later.

Through it all, Gunderson was traveling across the world, to Colorado, Spain, Texas, Oregon and Japan before settling in Alaska. Being away from family, especially from his mom, he said, has been the hardest part.

So on Sunday, as Bucs staffers shuffled him from the VIP room to the first aid station to the pirate ship, as people asked him questions and took his picture, Gunderson wasn't the least bit unnerved.

"I'm just really excited to see my mom," he said.

•••

"Oh," Campbell cried out as she turned to her right. "My son!"

She hugged him and kissed him and cupped his face. She cried.

In the stands, Gunderson's younger brother was just as surprised. Those who'd been keeping the secret for months felt relieved.

"Everyone knew but me!" Campbell said.

The tears kept flowing.

They headed back to the suite, where Gunderson told his mom that he was proud of her for fighting.

"Honey," she said. "I do it for you and your brother. Everything I do is for you."

Contact Katie Mettler at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446.

   
Comments

High school scoreboard for Jan. 17

Wednesday’s scoreboardBoys basketballBoca Ciega 62, Clearwater 52Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 3, Dunedin 0Girls soccerPalm Harbor U. 5, Dunedin 0
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

PORT RICHEY — The first call came into emergency dispatch at 4 p.m. on Sunday from shore, reporting a ‘giant’ boat on fire in the Pithlachascotee River."It’s urgent," the caller said.Others followed quickly, one woman crying as she described from her...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

On warmer nights, Jerry Hardison can sleep for a few hours at the recycling center. He works 11-hour shifts there. He gets off at 2:30 a.m., then waits until the buses start running again.But not Wednesday."Getting out that time of the morning in the...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Associated PressSAN FRANCISCO — Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the United States that will be partially financed by an upcoming windfall f...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Michigan father deported after three decades in community; AIDS crusader Mathlide Kim dies; more in U.S. news

Michigan father deported after three decades in community; AIDS crusader Mathlide Kim dies; more in U.S. news

Michigan This was his home for 30 years, then ICE forced dad from familyWith two immigration agents hovering nearby, Jorge Garcia pulled his wife and their 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son close for a final hug at the Detroit airport. Soon af...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

GIBSONTON — A 46-year-old man was arrested Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on 50 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of promoting a sexual performance by a child.Authorities said they received several tip...
Updated: 6 hours ago

He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Cory Byrd said he still has nightmares about the smoke. In them, he is back in the cabin of the Express Shuttle II, scrambling to reach the white rectangle of an open door. The smoke was so thick, he said, you could barely see an outstretched hand. ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Wallaby bounds down Sydney Harbour Bridge; North, South Korea to march as one in Olympics; more in world news

Wallaby bounds down Sydney Harbour Bridge; North, South Korea to march as one in Olympics; more in world news

AustraliaWallaby infiltrates Sydney bridgeA wayward wallaby disrupted downtown traffic by bounding across the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Tuesday with police in pursuit. The adult male was captured without any apparent serious injury and is expected to b...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

LARGO — For years, county sheriffs in the United States have faced a quandary when asked by federal officials to hold undocumented immigrants in their local jails. They could continue to hold them for up to two days past the time they were legally fr...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa called Wednesday for artists to send in their ideas for a big piece of public art for the outdoor plaza between one of the $3 billion project’s office buildings and the new University of South Florida Morsani College of Med...
Updated: 8 hours ago