By Christina Vargas
Russell is going down in LPC history. He is nose-to-nose with death, battling with metastatic melanoma for about a year and a half. But his method of fighting includes returning to work.
He’s not back in his post as president of the college. He’s serving at the district office on a temporary administrative assignment, working on projects with Human Resources and Educational Services. Certainly, there are some concerns about a possibly terminally ill administrator being able to execute the duties.
These are unchartered territories for the school and the district. Las Positas College has never had a sitting president in such a circumstance. But perhaps the history Russell is making, the legacy he is crafting, is the example he is setting. Tenacity. Commitment. Determination. The admirable stubbornness to, if you’re going out, go out on your own terms.
“If you do what you love,” Chancellor Jannett Jackson said, “you don’t work a day in your life. And I think that’s true with Barry, He doesn’t see this as work, this is the love, this is what he has always wanted to do. Even in the face of adversity you still have to stick with what you think is the right thing.”
His fight began Aug. 13, 2016 with a trip to the emergency room.
Tests that day revealed a tumor the size of an apricot on the left frontal lobe of the brain, which is crucial to the roles, which control movement, language function and decision-making. Next thing he knew, he was on the operating table to remove the tumor.
Russell disclosed this in an email dated Feb. 21, 2017 addressed to his “LPC Family.” After three days of high-powered radiation, MRI results came back resulting in a cancer free patient. Doctors and therapists forced him to take a sabbatical, so he announced in the email that he would step away from the campus for March 2017.
Susan Cota, a former president of LPC and former chancellor, filled in for Russell. He returned to his post for the remainder of the Spring 2017 semester. But in another email, sent July 21, 2017, he revealed that his good news was short lived. At the beginning of last summer, his team of oncologists discovered the cancer had spread “past my brain and into several other parts of my body,” as Russel put it.
He announced he would be stepping away for the Fall 2017 semester to undergo aggressive immunotherapy treatment and that Roanna Bennie would be the interim president.
“My hope is that immunotherapy kicks in quickly and attacks those cancer cells,” he wrote in the July email, “and that my dedication to rest and building strength allows me to return to work sooner rather than later.”
Then on December 22, the Chancellor provided an update that Russell would return to campus Jan. 8, 2018. He was set to take over a limited role. The update sounded as if Russell would return to Las Positas when he could handle a full work schedule.
Due to his lack of well-being, Chancellor and her officials made the decision to place him at the district office. “I wanted him to focus on him getting well and not worrying about the college,” Chancellor Jackson said.
Is his cancer defeated? Or is he trying to die on the vine?
“The reason he is assigned at the district office is so he can do what we call Reasonable Accommodation,” Jackson said. “Dr. Russell is the first administrator we have dealt with. (But) the law applies regardless of what position you have. We have to go through a process. We have to look through reasonable accommodations. We have to do an assessment. We have doctors notes and all kind of stuff like that and that’s the same for anyone. And we try to work with them, because frankly I’m human.”
What keeps Dr. Barry Russell from persisting through his battle with cancer and return to work? Us. The students. It’s always been about the students. Chancellor Jackson clarifies, “Even to his detriment sometimes. But his tenacity and his will, his love for students”.