Nikki and Phil Russo met in a New York City café. The two creative minds immediately connected – Phil on his way to becoming the VP – Global Creative Director for the international fashion label Cole Haan and Nikki a fashion editor in the Big Apple. The young family was on page one of their life story – new jobs, new home, new baby. It was an overwhelmingly joyous time, until they received a devastating diagnosis. Even through this adversity, their positivity and support for one another never wavered.
A Loving Wife & Mother
Today, Phil and Jasper spend Saturday mornings drawing, building and possibly heading out to the water for some afternoon rowing. But the joys of parenting Jasper are no longer tackled as a team. Because six months into Phil and Nikki’s parenthood and life adventure, they were dealt an unexpected blow – Nikki was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. That day in the doctor’s office she was told she had two years to live; she was 37 years old with a six-month-old son.
Nikki had a remarkable spirit, passion for life and her energy and positivity continuously amazed her husband and all those around her, even through her diagnosis and battle with cancer.
“She had the ability to see the good in everybody and everything,” Phil says of his wife. “She would see the potential in people and situations, and she always made people feel good about themselves because of that. When people interacted with her they’d think that anything was possible. She saw them bigger than they saw themselves and she was the same with me.”
Managing Cancer & Raising a Child
When Nikki’s diagnosis came, this perpetual spirit and positivity never wavered. She remained steadfast in her ways, and together, she and Phil ensured their young son was surrounded by support and love through this challenging time.
“When he was three or four I would have harder, very frank conversations explaining that we had a special circumstance and there may be a day when Mommy wouldn’t be around and it would be just us and to not worry,” Phil recalls. “I just timed it with what I thought was his ability to understand. I never wanted to hide it from him and I didn’t want him to feel like the world was going to end.”
Phil draws on the importance of staying strong for your children and being honest with them in a way that is meaningful. And above all, he stresses the importance of keeping positive and keeping a positive atmosphere around children at all times, even if it takes everything you have in you – which it may.
Jasper was four when Nikki lost her battle – more than two years after her doctors predicted. “It was tremendously sad and it’s going to affect Jasper for the rest of his life, but everybody has their challenges in life and this happens to be his.”
The Importance of Attitude
Nikki’s strength and calm helped put everyone in her circle more at ease. “There were tough moments when she broke down, but for the most part, there was no cowering in the corner and giving up – we just kept going until we couldn’t go any further,” Phil shares. “We were always planning for the best even though we knew the worst was lurking in the shadows.”
And Nikki’s positivity continues to live through Phil, as he draws on the good that came out of their years of adversity. “Would I will this on anybody else? No. But I would will the wisdom we gained out of it on the entire world,” he says. “Life changed for us and for me forever the day Nikki was diagnosed. My outlook has changed around what’s important and how to prioritize things in life and how to go after the things you want and making sure you’re making the most of the time you have. The cliché that life is short rings truer now than ever.”
Not surprisingly, little Jasper has learned some lessons through this, too, Dad says. “He had to learn a very tough lesson very early that life isn’t always completely fair but you keep going and stay positive. There are plenty of other good things in life to celebrate and be excited about.”
And all of this positivity and love has made Japer unbelievably strong through these times and he’s adjusted very well so far. “I look forward to seeing him and our conversations and as he matures he just becomes a more and more well-rounded, fascinating human-being.”
On Colon Cancer
Along with wanting to see more colon cancer publicity involving younger people, Phil makes a plea to the medical community for more openness toward colonoscopies and testing for the under 50 population. Nikki didn’t have a known family history, but she’d been having symptoms for quite a while. “That’s the crime of this whole thing,” Phil says. “My wife had symptoms and many of them we think were linked but they didn’t make the cancer connection; she didn’t get a colonoscopy and that wasn’t explored until she was already at stage IV. If she had been tested earlier, our lives could have been very different.”