"Definitely wasn't expecting this."
Ryan Smith gave Barrie Stafford a big hug. What happened next was painful and confusing. Barrie’s collarbone broke away from his breastbone—a strange event in a series of small fractures, backaches and discomfort.
Barrie is the Oilers’ Alumni Relations Manager. From 1977 to ’81, he played hockey for the U of A Golden Bears. He graduated with a degree in athletic training and immediately went to work for the Oilers.
“My whole life I’ve been a very health conscious person,” says Barrie who, despite his efforts, was failing. “I had pneumonia a couple of times. I was struggling with pain. I couldn’t sleep at night and just wasn’t feeling right. Very uncomfortable.”
On July 15, 2011, Barrie went to the University Hospital emergency. The physicians immediately admitted him. One week later, he still didn’t know what was wrong or if he was getting out of hospital.
“I came face to face with my mortality. I didn’t really know if I was going to live or die.”
On July 29, Barrie transferred to the Cross Cancer Institute to start an intensive course of chemotherapy. That’s when he met oncologist Dr. Irwindeep Sandhu.
“Although he told me I have Multiple Myeloma, he also said, ‘I think I can help you.’ That was the best thing I had heard.”
“It was a tough go, man,” says Barrie. “But I was very lucky. My body reacted well. I was back working part time in the middle of April.”
“Although he told me I have multiple myeloma, he also said, ‘I think I can help you.’ That was the best thing I had heard.”
"This ain't getting me"
From his window at the Cross Cancer Institute, Brian could see the rich-green Astroturf of Lister Field.
A year earlier in the spring 2015, he had come down with pneumonia. Months later, blood tests revealed multiple myeloma—a blood-borne, bone cancer. In April 2016, he had begun weekly chemo injections, a process he compares to using Roundup to blitz dandelions from a once-pristine lawn. Fifteen weeks of chemo, then an entire month at the Cross undergoing a stem cell transplant.
Brian sat up, got out of bed, grabbed the pulley with its IV bottles and turned down the corridor for his daily walk.
“Stay close to the nursing station,” the staff called, like they always did. But today he had different plans. When the nurses turned their backs, he pushed the elevator button.
He went down and out to the parking lot, crossed the street and wheeled his IV pole right into the middle of Lister Field.
“It was the middle of August, nice and hot,” he says. “I lay down right in the centre of the field. At that moment, with the sun shining warm beams across my face, I said, ‘This thing aint getting me.’”
He got up and walked back into the Cross and back to his room.
“Since then it’s been really positive,” says Brian, who returned to the office two months later and now spends his evenings on the hardwood coaching college basketball. The only way this was all possible was with the help of researchers, oncologists and an unbelievable nursing staff at the Cross.