Cancer took a lot away from the guest speaker at the Carman Curl for Cancer, but Brooke Russell has made it her life’s work to give back to others.
Russell’s parents were both from the Carman/Sperling area. Although they raised her in Calgary, every summer Carman was home. “Some of my fondest childhood memories are of summers in the Carman area,” she said. “I truly had the best childhood.
But cancer was also a part of her growing up. She recalled losing an aunt and an uncle before her father found a lump on is his neck. She was only 14-years-old when she learned her dad had stage 4 lung cancer. Although initial treatments seemed promising, it became clear things weren’t improving.
“He then became very sick, very quickly,” she said. He died Sept. 19, 2002.
Only five years later, Russell was 19-years-old and her mother (at 48) became sick. She had always dealt with bad headaches, but an unusually severe one made her pull her car over and park it after suffering temporary blindness in one eye.
“I remember that day pleading with her to go to the doctor and get it checked out,” she said.
Her mother was diagnosed with Metastatic brain cancer. She died Aug. 26, 2009.
Since that time she has devoted herself to Pyscho Social Oncology, a whole person approach to cancer care.
This approach has led to the monitoring of distress in patients, which is now considered an important part of treatment.
It also allows for treatment to include how the diagnoses are affecting others in the family.
“Being a child of dieing parents is a really weird place to be,” she said. “My parents both tried to shield me from many of the details.”
“In both cases, very few resources were ever made available to us,” she added.
Russell said they saw that as a gap that needed to be bridged.
This approach has also led to the monitoring of distress in cancer patients. That can include fears, sadness, panic, anxiety and more.
It is now considered the sixth vital sign in CancerCare screening.
Distress, be it emotional, spiritual, or physical manifests itself differently in adults and children. Both groups are given questions to answer as they come in for treatment, with the goal of sending them to specialists as needed.
Russell said she strives every day to make improvements in how people with cancer are treated.
“I may have been given lemons, but I’ve worked my entire life to make lemonade out of those damn things,” she said.