The family was given the option of beginning treatment at an adult facility or at a pediatric hospital. They chose the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Medical Center, where more than 1,000 new patients are treated each year.
“The experience is just so different,” said Russell, now 20. “They’re so much gentler and nicer than they are in any adult facility.”
Many of the hospital’s available activities are for small children, but Russell said he found the staff to be so patient-focused that they found things for him to do that were not just something to kill time but instead were life-building experiences.
He sang in the Seacrest Studios and sang the national anthem at the Children’s Red Balloon Run & Ride in April. In June, he attended an Arizona-based camp for young people with serious illnesses. He had never heard of the camp before, but Children’s staff placed him in touch with the camp’s staff.
“The people here really do care for you and want to do stuff for you. They find these opportunities for you,” Russell said, sitting in the oncology clinic at Children’s.
He is past the most difficult stages of chemotherapy and is now in the “maintenance stage,” with another year and a half to two more years of treatment.
Russell plays the clarinet and saxophone and discovered his Sinatra-like singing talent late in high school when his choir director told him he had great tone and should try experimenting with different types of singing.
He graduated from Liberty Christian School in Argyle in 2015 and enrolled in The Master’s College, a Christian college in southern California. He was a music education major preparing for a mission trip to Albania when he became ill. A persistent cough had worsened, and he became fatigued. He made several trips to a local clinic. When they referred him to a hospital in Los Angeles his mother opted to have him flown home immediately.
He said chemotherapy could be tough – there were bouts of nausea and muscle pain so bad he could not walk – but he was buoyed by the support of people from his family, high school and church.
“It’s really cool to think that you have all these people behind you,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re not so much alone.”
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