Beating the odds

Longtime employee Bret Camp returns to work at Resource Center Dallas less than a year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma

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BACK ON THE JOB  | Bret Camp stands outside the Resource Center on Tuesday, March 6. Camp left his 16-year post in May because of cancer. He returned March 1 with a new job title. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Bret Camp knows about survival. In less than a year, he’s battled lymphoma after doctors finally identified what was making him so ill, and returned to the job he adored but had to leave for health reasons.

Camp suffers from neck pain that resulted in him needing surgery in 1999 and again in May 2011.

After his surgery last year, Camp got sick, leading doctors to believe a complication had occurred and brought on an infection.

Numerous tests were done, but nothing was discovered. Within weeks Camp was “incredibly ill,” with fevers and sweats, losing 25 pounds in 30 days. But still no answers surfaced.

In August, he met with an oncologist who diagnosed him with B-cell lymphoma within days of running tests, and Camp began a 24-week chemotherapy regimen.

His primary cancerous lymph nodes were right under his surgical incision, he said.

“When I started it, I was really pretty sick and really didn’t know if I was going to pull through,” he said.

Battling the “very classic” effects of chemo like nausea and the “chemo brain” forgetfulness, Camp said he kept a positive attitude about beating the cancer.

“It’s all about attitude and keeping a positive attitude, looking to the future, having something to look forward to,” he said.

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FRESH PERSPECTIVE | Camp, shown in his office, said his new role as health services director includes educating clients on healthcare reform changes and how they affect them. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

A flood of support for Camp came from the community, a cancer support group, family, and most importantly his partner, Steve.

“I don’t know if I could have done it without him. He was my rock through most of it, through all of it,” Camp said. “He was a great caretaker.”

As he read up on his cancer, Camp almost halted his research due the horrible stories. However, he remained positive and stayed focused on the fact that B-cell is “one of the more aggressive lymphomas, but it’s also one of the most successful treatment rates,” he said.

Still, Camp was worried his HIV would cause problems with his recovery. But after 10 months without HIV labs, his T cells were higher and his viral load was still undetectable.

And while lymphoma is an “opportunistic” disease for people who are HIV-positive, much like heart and liver disease and various infections, Camp said his HIV didn’t ultimately hinder his recovery.

“It may have been the root cause, but I don’t think it complicated things,” he said. “It’s a blessing and it shows the resilience of the human body.”
Although Camp started to feel like himself again after the chemo treatments ended mid-December, the decision to return to work wasn’t until mid-February.

“As soon as I started feeling good, I started getting bored,” he said. “I had stayed in touch with Resource Center, and my heart was always with the agency and the extended family that I’ve got here.”
Camp started working for the center in 1995 as clinic coordinator, eventually serving as associate executive director until he left in May.

When he was healthy enough to return to work, the center created the heath services director position for Camp “to get me back in the loop.” He started back at RCD on March 1.

“I’ve stepped back in and it’s fitting like a comfortable pair of shoes,” Camp said.

His new role involves working with the clinics, the HIV and STD programs, and some of the center’s strategic and special programs, such as educating clients on the new healthcare reform changes and how they affect them, he said.

But most of all, Camp is excited about the people he’ll get to work with in his new role.

“The Resource Center’s mission is about people, and that’s what I like about my job,” Camp said.

Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, said she’s grateful for Camp’s return to the center and the benefits that having him on staff will continue to bring to the community.

“He has a vast knowledge of many things related to HIV, medications, changes in healthcare and medications, and laws and regulations that impact our work,” Cox said. “He’s got a deep network and history of relationships that are important to this agency and that means ultimately to our clients.”
Zachary S. Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said he was glad to see Camp return.

“His commitment and compassion to serving all communities impacted by HIV and AIDS is reinvigorating,” Thompson said.
Camp’s return to a healthy life and a work schedule have taught him to shrug off simple annoyances in a daily routine and to cherish the little things that brought him joy before his cancer diagnosis.

“In many ways, I think everyone needs a life-threatening experience because it gives you perspective,” Camp said. “You know what a real problem is.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 9, 2012.

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